Get Ready Bikers, Hikers and Runners: Walking & Biking Bridge Over Meramec River To Open Soon

Photo: Ursula Ruhl

By Don Corrigan

Bikers, hikers and runners in the area, particularly in Kirkwood, are chomping at the bit to use the new Interstate 44 bridge lane over the Meramec River.

The lane is dedicated for their use, but ramps and other infrastructure — also for their use — are still under construction.

“As a bicyclist myself, I am as excited as everybody else to use the new bridge,” said Kyle Henke, director of the city of Kirkwood’s Parks and Recreation Department. “I think it’s going to be incredible for those of us on the Kirkwood side of the Meramec River to have access to everything on the west side.”

Among the sites that will be available are those along the section of the Meramec Greenway Trail that stretches from Unger Park Lake on the north to the lake at George Winter Park on the south.

For those traveling west on the protected bridge lane, there will be access to the soccer park, Fenton City Park, Old Towne Fenton and more. A south bridge over the Meramec will allow access to Minnie Ha Ha Park and trails on the Sunset Hills side of the river.

For those traveling east on the protected bridge lane from the Fenton area, there will be access to Emmenegger Park via Stoneywood Drive and access to Powder Valley Nature Center via Cragwold Road.

“There will be plenty of parking for cars at a trailhead at the top of the hill near Emmenegger Park,” said Henke. “That lot will actually be in Sunset Hills near the entrance ramp to the bridge.

“Kirkwood has a cooperative agreement with Sunset Hills to monitor and manage the lot and trailhead area,” explained Henke. “The municipalities of Sunset Hills, Kirkwood and Fenton have really cooperated to make this all work.”

Some residents on the Fenton side of the biking and hiking bridge lane project have criticized it as “the bridge to nowhere” for them since there is no trail on the Kirkwood side. However, Henke said the roadway connections easily get bi-pedal travelers to Emmenegger and to Powder Valley.

“The only cautionary note I have is that once you get past Powder Valley on Cragwold Road going east, some drivers have a tendency to speed on that stretch,” said Henke. “And once Cragwold gets you to South Geyer, that stretch of South Geyer can have heavy traffic at times.”

Area Win-Win-Win

Sunset Hills Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Brown called the project a “win-win-win” for the Kirkwood, Sunset Hills and Fenton areas. He said if the weather holds, construction of the ramp areas should be complete by Nov. 15.

“It is possible that we could have a ribbon cutting and the official inaugural rides over the bridge later in November,” said Brown. “If the weather does not cooperate for that, we are probably looking at March for a celebration.”

Brown explained that many entities have been involved in the project besides the local cities. The Missouri Department of Transportation has, of course, been responsible for the bridge, which is now carrying vehicle traffic on I-44 across the bridge.

Other major players have included St. Louis County and Great Rivers Greenway. Brown said it has been surprisingly easy getting everyone on the same page for the project, and hundreds of residents have attended meetings to provide input.

“The public has had a big say on such things as where restrooms might or might not be needed, whether there should be a viewing spot on the bridge, parking lot facilities,” said Brown. “There was not much enthusiasm for a trail on the east side of the river.”

The idea for a trail on the east side of the river, which would connect two bridge bike lanes across the Meramec, was met with opposition from some nature advocates and environmentalists. MoDOT also had some safety concerns.

That’s not to say that expansion won’t be possible in the future.

“I think once this opens up, people are going to be exploring and finding new things. I think people will be coming up with suggestions on how to improve and expand on both sides of the river,” said Brown.

“This is a regional asset,” he added. “This new connection, this new accessibility to some great nature sites and parks and for commuting, will stimulate new ideas to make the region better.”

Plans For 2023

“Great Rivers Greenway has been primarily focused on the bridge trail over I-44,” said Todd Antoine, chief of planning and projects for Great Rivers Greenway. “The ramp areas are the purview of MoDOT and the cities. And, of course, MoDOT built the bridge.

“Great Rivers Greenway is now in the process of updating the trails’ signage for 2023,” added Antoine. “We haven’t determined what exactly the signs are going to say and where they will be placed.”

Antoine said Great Rivers Greenway will be working with St. Louis County and the three local municipalities in the coming months on signage.

Signs on the east side of the bridge lane may point to Emmenegger Park and Powder Valley Nature Center. Signs on the west side of the bridge may direct travelers north to Unger Park or south to the lake at George Winter Park.

Antoine said there is a possibility of a fall and a spring event to celebrate the new commuting connection over the Meramec River. After all, there is a lot to celebrate.

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