YELLOW SPRINGS — With warm temperatures expected in the coming days, community members may take it as an opportunity to get break their cabin fever and get some fresh air. Glen Helen offers a solution to that endeavor.
It recently unveiled a new wooden walkway that stretches over an area which previously required thoughtful rock navigation to avoid wet feet.
“A lot of folks who care about having an experience in nature have difficulty navigating the typography, either families with small kids or folks who have gotten to an age where they have a harder time coming down the long staircase, so a lot of what we were trying to do was make the historic and scenic hotspots in the Glen more visitable for folks with limited mobility,” Glen Helen Executive Director Nick Boutis said.
A heavy rainfall fell across the Miami Valley in the warm months of 2014, creating a flood that ultimately re-positioned former bridges found within the Glen. Boutis highlighted that the flood was so powerful that it moved boulders and bridges up to 100 yards away from where they originally stood.
“We had bridges in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
By the time the flood swept through Glen Helen, officials had already applied for a grant to establish funds to construct the walkway. The flood and new positions of the bridges created a bigger urgency to complete the project, but after securing government funds at the end of 2014 and navigating bureaucratic elements thereafter the bridge started going up mid-November 2016.
“Money comes out of the federal highway bill, [then] comes into the state to be used for human trails,” Boutis said. “The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a program called The Recreation Trails Program that’s funded through Federal Department of Transportation dollars. I appreciate the idea that there’s billions of dollars being used for highways, but [it is still] recognized that a car is not the only way people get from one place to another.”
Walkway construction concluded approximately one month later — but not without getting creative. Construction equipment is not able to drive through or park anywhere near the walkway. Therefore, the individuals responsible for building the bridge had to create their own. Not to mention the fact that some of the pieces of wood making up the walkway weighs more than the average piece of construction material. Boutis said some pieces weigh up to 1,000 pounds.
“Every piece of wood, they had to carry,” he said. ” … They basically built a unicycle they would put underneath [the wood] and about eight people would walk it down with this unicycle holding [the wood] up.”
And because the stream of water the walkway stretches across is considered “water of the state,” the Army Corps of Engineers prohibited anything having to do with the construction from touching the water. Cue more creativity.
“They had to build [a small] tower and basically create a zip line,” Boutis said. “So they would take the beam, get it to [the tower] and attach it to this zip line and use that to loft it across the creek. Part of the reason they were able to do it so quickly was because they had a lot of prep time to figure out how to make it work.”
Three local engineers donated their time and energy to the project — Bill Martt, Jerry Papania and Tim McCrate — to ensure the walkway would not only stand the test of time, but blend with the scenery. Boutis highlighted that the walkway resembles a wooden roller coaster, which can be credited to McCrate, who dedicated his career to designing such operations.
Fences were built near the area where visitors would formerly cross the water and get back onto the trail in order to establish new routines. Individuals are always encouraged to stay on the trails in the Glen to ensure their safety as well as additional protection to the water and natural areas.
Some visitors have seen the new walkway as a graffiti canvas, creating a need to already sand parts of it away — approximately two months since it opened — after taking nearly three years to apply for the grant, as well as plan and execute the project.
Boutis predicts changes to the come to the area below the walkway. Glen Helen visitors will no longer walk through that natural area, allowing Mother Nature to take the wheel and determine how it will look from this point onward.
“Eventually, this will change more as a result of people not being down there,” Boutis said. “Those trails will go away and maybe the river will move around a little bit more.”
Reach Whitney Vickers at 937-502-4532.