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Unsafe bridge closes path

Crumbling of land destabilizes stretch in Bristol

Staff photo / Renee Fox Zachary Svette, executive director of the Trumbull County MetroParks, describes damage to a section of the bike trail in Bristol, just north of the Oakfield Trailhead. Land slid down toward a stream below, taking part of the structure and land beneath the bridge.

BRISTOL — The land surrounding a former railroad stone arch bridge circa 1840 has slid down dozens of feet toward a stream, destablizing a small section of bike trail now closed to the public for safety reasons.

The Western Reserve Greenway between the Oakfield Trailhead on Hyde Oakfield Road NW and Mahan Denman Road in Bristol is closed off with concrete barriers on both ends. Bicyclists easily can avoid the precarious stretch of trail by taking Oakfield North Road NW as a detour to Hyde Oakfield off Mahan Denman to rejoin the bike trail.

The land slid about 30 feet down, displacing about 300 cubic feet of earth, Trumbull County MetroParks Executive Director Zachary Svette said.

“We can’t allow people anywhere near it now, it is just too dangerous,” Svette said.

However, not everyone is respecting the barriers, going around them to toss orange warning cones around and take a look at the damage, Svette said.

Svette tried fencing and other temporary barriers to try to prevent people from going near the collapse, but the erosion continued to spread and take out sections of land all around and under the bridge the trail is on.

Even still, people are going around the barriers, but Svette said it appears eventually the erosion is going to pull down more of the trail’s asphalt, as it did with a bridge support beam and other structures that since have fell down toward the stream.

To begin to fix the problem, Svette said he needs about $25,000 to conduct an initial engineering study. But a permanent fix is likely to cost between $250,000 and $750,000, Svette said, according to a preliminary estimate. A study would help dial in an exact cost, Svette said.

Svette said he would prefer to do extensive work to get the fix right, and hopefully shore up the situation in a way that won’t recurr. The stream below may need to be rerouted slightly to keep it from eroding more land, he said.

Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda said he beleives there will be support from the board of commissioners to provide the $25,000 for the study.

“We have to do something; we can’t leave it like this,” Fuda said.

Though the park system is overseen by its own board, the commissioners fund it with a budget of $95,000 per year. Mostly grants were used to pay for the trails.

Getting the funds to actually make the repairs will be a difficult route, Svette and Fuda said.

“All of the grant money out there is designed to build trails, not maintain them,” Svette said.

The largest grant out there for trail maintenance is up to $150,000, and comes with a match, he said. That wouldn’t be enough, he said.

But after a preliminary study is completed, Svette “aggressively” can pursue grant funding and / or loans, said Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa.

Detouring bicyclists to roads raises safety concerns, Cantalamessa said.

“It’s critically important that we maintain the trail not only for our citizens that use it regularly, but it also serves as an asset for tourism economic development,” Cantalamessa said.

The area first started showing signs of trouble a few years ago when a small section near the trail slipped down, Svette said. But the damage was nowhere nearly as bad, he said.

Svette said if people break the rules and go around the barrier and get hurt, the individual will be liable, not the park system, because there are clear warnings.

Along the edge of the trail on the bridge are six sections of about 8 feet that have dropped since the initial damage was reported by an independent contractor that works for the park district and a cyclist, Svette said.

It’s expected to take at least two years to make the fix, considering applications, permits, design and work time.

Commissioner Niki Frenchko said she has yet to see a formal request from Svette and an email from the Tribune Chronicle was the first time she heard of the problems with the trail.

“Without knowing the details and options, it’s premature to commit funds,” Frenchko said.

The trail closure was announced in May.

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