ST. MICHAELS -- No man is an island, but you can't blame Tilghman Island residents for feeling that way.
Beginning Sunday, the Eastern Shore island's 58-year-old drawbridge will be closed to motorists at night so that welders can fix holes that have developed on its aging steel deck and repair a damaged girder underneath the drawspan's concrete counterweight.
The bridge is the three-mile-long island's only connection with the mainland and business owners are concerned that tourism will suffer as a result.
"It couldn't come at a worse time -- in the middle of a recession," said a glum Levin F. "Buddy" Harrison III, owner of Harrison's Country Inn and Chesapeake House Restaurant.
"Our customers think we'll be out of business in January," he said. "We're the main source of entertainment at night around here and we usually get a big crowd."
State Highway Administration officials insist that the $140,000 in repairs to the drawspan are badly needed, and that closing the bridge is the only way to get the work done.
"There's so much work to be done on the deck you can't have traffic going across," said Diane Lovero, an SHA spokeswoman. "We were told that tourism is usually down in January, so we're doing it during the slowest period of the year."
Under the SHA plan, the bridge will be closed to cars and trucks from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. except on Friday and Saturday nights, when it won't be closed until midnight. The span will be shut down to all marine traffic until the work is completed Feb. 7.
To minimize the effect of the night closings, the SHA is paying to have a boat ferry people across the channel, and two passenger vans will take travelers to their destinations on the island.
"The only scary part is a medical emergency," said Tom Ward, a Tilghman resident since 1989. "You try not to think about those things, but you never know what's going to happen."
At the Tilghman Volunteer Fire Co., Chief Levin F. "Buddy" Harrison IV said emergency situations have been taken into account. Fire trucks and an ambulance will be stationed on both sides of the bridge so that volunteers can respond to an emergency on the island or the mainland.
A 4-foot-wide footbridge will be erected so that volunteers can -- back and forth during an emergency and roll across ambulance patients by stretcher.
"If we get a priority one patient, a heart attack victim or trauma, there is a helicopter available from Salisbury," Chief Harrison said.
Nevertheless, the bridge's closing will be an inconvenience for the tall-masted skipjacks who must sail around the island if they want to get from the Choptank River to the Chesapeake Bay to harvest oysters. It's also an annoyance to oyster buyers who must arrange to purchase from workboats on both the east and west sides of the island.
But most of all, the closing will be a remedial lesson in geography to any of the 750 people who live here and may have forgotten what island living is all about.
"It's probably going to be more of an adventure than most people want to have," said David B. McCallum, owner of the Tilghman Island Inn, a restaurant and 20-room motel.