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Islanders win chance to be the last to walk across old Matlacha Bridge

November 28, 2012
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Pine Island Eagle

Two island men had the opportunity to be the last individuals to walk the old Matlacha Bridge before it closed down to the public Nov. 17. The two had won the right to walk the bridge at an auction during the Pirate's Ball in February.

Honorary Mayor Ralph Kemp, 89, has lived in Matlacha for 25 years in the same home.

"It made me feel good because we have a new bridge up," he said of walking across the span on the last day. "I used to be the honorary mayor, they asked me to walk across the bridge."

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Honorary Mayor Ralph Kemp and Danny (Dog) Dobbins were the winners of an auction, held during Pirate’s Ball at Bert’s Bar & Grill, to be the last individuals to walk across the old Matlacha Bridge. That walk occurred at sunset Saturday, Nov. 17, the last official day the old span was open.

Kemp said he is going to miss the fishing-est bridge the most once it is torn down.

"I used to go up there in the summertime and the wintertime, it was packed with fishermen you wouldn't believe it, there would be 100 people fishing off the bridge," he said. "We won't have that anymore."

Kemp said he enjoyed watching someone catch a fish and try to reel it in off the bridge.

In addition to seeing the fishermen, he said he also liked walking on the bridge and watching the sunset over Bokeelia.

"It was really beautiful," Kemp said.

He said Matlacha is fabulous; all the good people live in Matlacha, St. James City and Bokeelia.

Danny (Dog) Dobbins joined Kemp on the stroll across the bridge for the last time.

"My mother was supposed to be with us, but she was in the hospital, so she couldn't be in the walk," Dobbins said.

One of his wishes was to see the new bridge open.

"I'm really happy about that," he said. "It was a pleasure walking with Ralph, he is a cool guy, me and him are buddies."

The bridge holds a special meaning for Dobbins, due to his memories going back to when he was 6-years-old fishing off the bridge for the first time. He moved to Matlacha in 1972 and has seen three Matlacha bridges in his lifetime the old wooden bridge, the bridge that is being torn down and now the new bridge.

"I caught some of the biggest snook off of that wooden bridge that you have ever seen in your life," he said, adding that he also caught large snook of the old span as well.

Dobbins hopes the tradition of fishing off the bridge continues.

"Fishing-est bridge in the world and I hope it continues to be," he said.

Unfortunately Dobbins does not think a new bridge was needed for the area.

"In my opinion, it was the biggest waste of money I have ever seen," he said. "No reason for there to be a draw bridge."

Construction on the new bridge began in October 2010 and finished this month.



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