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Public Voices Both Concern and Support For New Trail Extension Planned For I-44 Bridge

Photo by Diana Linsley/Webster-Kirkwood Times.

Hikers, bikers and joggers are gaga over the prospect of traveling over the Meramec River on a trail extension using a rebuilt Interstate 44 bridge complex. Bridge construction could begin later this year with a 2021 completion date.

“We’re looking at this as a once-in-a-50-year opportunity – to be able to use a new, major river bridge like this,” said Seth Treptow, communications manager for Great Rivers Greenway.
By Don Corrigan (Webster-Kirkwood Times)

“There’s a lot of excitement about connecting the Fenton side of the river with the Kirkwood and Sunset Hills side of the river,” added Treptow. “We jumped on this I-44 bridge opportunity when it presented itself. Yes, there are a lot of logistics yet to be worked out, but this is a done deal.”

Those hikers, bikers and joggers are already engaged in free-flow fantasies that will involve some logistics:

– Imagine biking out of Minnie Ha Ha Park north on the river trail in Sunset Hills, then heading west over the new bridge near Kirkwood, then heading south on river trail in Fenton, for a loop return to Minnie Ha Ha via the Old Gravois Bridge trail extension.

–Imagine biking north out of George Winter Park along the river trail in Fenton, then heading east over the new bridge to Kirkwood, then heading north through Emmenegger Park on a trail to Greentree Park in Kirkwood, to catch the existing trail to Valley Park.

These two scenarios are now just fantasy. The new trail would have to be built on the east side of the Meramec River in Sunset Hills and in Kirkwood, but it’s not too soon to dream, according to area hikers, bikers and joggers.

“We will be looking at a lot of trail possibilities,” said Treptow. “And, the important thing is that we already have good existing trail that can use the new bridge. We have great trail now on the west side of the river from Fenton to Unger Park.

“There have been no definite trail decisions on the Kirkwood side of the river,” added Treptow. “But there are meetings taking place in a number of venues now to discuss the options.”

Even though there is no existing trail on the Emmenegger Park side of the I-44 bridge into Kirkwood, that does not mean the hiking, biking and jogging will stop there. That side of the bridge will deliver trail travelers onto Stoney Wood Drive, which can take them to great outdoor destinations such as Powder Valley Nature Center and Emmenegger Park.

Environmental Concerns

Not all outdoor enthusiasts are excited about a proposed trail along the east side of the Meramec River to take advantage of a new bridge connection. Some environmentalists don’t want new trail hugging pristine river bluff areas and affecting wildlife.

Also, some users of Emmenegger Park shudder at the thought of those hikers, bikers and joggers using a wide trail on the river perimeter of the park, which has become prized green space and woodland for Kirkwood.

Scott George of Environmental Science Consulting in Fenton, already has expressed his objections to the proposed trail before groups devoted to outdoor and environmental protection.

“We already have trail on one side of the Meramec River, do we really need trail on both banks of the river?” George asked. “As proposed, the new trail will disturb some prime bluff area in both Sunset Hills and Kirkwood.

“This is high quality, old-growth habitat that can be described as pristine,” explained George. “Blaze a new trail through that area, and wildlife gets hurt and the bush honeysuckle arrives and it will never be the same.”

George emphasizes a key phrase: “fragmenting the habitat.” He has identified dozens of birds and plants that he said would be adversely affected by an asphalt trail corridor.

Also, George is suggesting that the proposed trail through Emmengger Park be routed away from the river. In his scenario, the trail would go up Stoney Wood Drive, turn and travel north along an outer road along I-270, then turn to parallel Marshall Road to come down to meet existing trail through Kirkwood’s Greentree Park.

“I’ve told the bicycle folks that I totally support what they are doing,” said George. “We need to get people out of cars and reduce our carbon footprint. But I want to see trails that don’t impact old growth forest and the great biodiversity of our corridors along our rivers.”

Parks & Recreation

Murray Pounds, director of parks and recreation for Kirkwood, said no matter where the new trail goes in the area of Emmenegger Park to Greentree Park, it will take several years to get everything in place. Land acquisition is a difficult part of the equation.

“For now, I think the easy trail connection to Emmenegger and Powder Valley makes the new bridge plan very exciting. Those are great destinations,” said Pounds. “We would love to see the trails in the Fenton and Sunset Hills area extend to meet up with the existing trail in the Greentree Park area. It’s going to take some time to develop.

“From my perspective, this all is a great generational opportunity,” said Pounds. “I would love to see Sunset Hills complete the trail from Minnie Ha Ha to I-44. That would provide a continuous loop that could be biked on both sides of the river, using bridges over the Meramec.”

Gerald Brown, director of parks and recreation for Sunset Hills, said the trail piece on the planned I-44 bridge presents all kinds of possibilities.

“There will be parking on both sides of the bridge with the trail approaches to the bridge,” said Brown. “The great thing is the rights-of-way are already in place for this to happen. The Fenton trail that goes under the bridge now will wrap around and connect to the new bridge.”

Brown said he was at a Municipal League grants meeting last week, and the plans for the biking areas on both sides of the bridge were approved.

“At this time, the trail on the Sunset Hills side of the river through Minnie Ha Ha Park is partially completed,” said Brown. “The extension of that trail all the way to the bridge and Kirkwood is purely conceptual. There have been no conversations with landowners. There are no design plans.

“So, we are looking at five years before it could actually happen,” Brown explained. “There’s a lot that would have to fall into place. I think there are some understandable concerns about building a trail on a narrow stretch between the bluffs and the river.”

Nevertheless, Brown said he is as excited as everybody else about what is being called a “lifetime opportunity” for expanded outdoor recreation in the area of Sunset Hills, Fenton and Kirkwood

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