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Monticello’s walk/bike trail that helps connect the city with subdivisions to the west of the Sangamon River reopened last week.
The trail had been closed since a May 23 fire damaged a trestle/bridge. Six youths later told Piatt County Sheriff’s police they accidentally ignited the trestle with a stray mortar-style firework.
City crews combined with local contractor Marc Poling to rehab the bridge, which was finished in five weeks and at least three weeks ahead of schedule. Total cost including labor came in at around $40,000, according to Monticello Superintendent of City Services Floyd Allsop.
Allsop figured out how popular the trail was as soon as it closed down.
“It was rare that a day went by that someone didn’t ask about the trestle or bike path being reopened,” he said. “It was used a lot before the damage and I assume that usage will pick up again.”
One major appeal to the trail is it allows residents in several subdivisions to cross the river and get to town walking or riding on the heavily-trafficked W. Bridge Street.
The trail had been open just two years prior to the spring fire, but it had become a staple for people’s exercise regimen as well as a green way of getting to the main portion of town.
“I’ve missed it a lot. I really have,” said Dr. Steven Sparenberg, a Turtle Creek subdivision resident who used the path extensively before the fire.
“What’s great for me is that as a family physician, I see people of all ages using it, getting physical activity. And it’s safe,” said Sparenberg, who took the opportunity to emphasize that all bicyclists should still use helmets when on the trail.
He also appreciates the sidewalks and lights installed on County Farm Road that help make access to the western end of the trail safe for kids.
Mild weather helped speed up the rebuild. In addition, a structural engineer confirmed that the structure supporting the bridge deck was still sound, despite being charred by the blaze.
“Fortunately, none of the superstructure had to be replaced. If it was still used by trains, it would probably need replaced, but for pedestrian use it is more than adequate to support what we’re using it for,” said Allsop.
When city officials first examined the scene following the spring fire, they estimated it could cost $75,000 or more to replace the 160 feet of trestle that was damaged. But on further review, it was found only the wood, side rails and fencing on the deck needed replacing.
The fire started when the errant firework caught brush underneath the trail on fire, which eventually spread to the wooden portions of the trestle. City crews cleared that growth away to hopefully avoid a repeat performance.
“We cleaned a lot of undergrowth away from the trestle, and hopefully that will help leaves and under debris blow on through, and hopefully will keep debris from collecting there when the river floods,” said Allsop.
For Sparenberg, who took advantage of 70 degree weather on Saturday to reacquaint himself with the trail, there’s nothing like a quick bike ride into town via the river-crossing trail.
“It’s so much fun to see people walking as families, and others walking their dogs. It’s great to see people of all ages out there. It’s not just kids; it’s everyone,” he said.