The city of Waco has decided to accept a Cameron Park bike-pedestrian bridge designed and built by volunteers, but the final tab to get it in place will run more than $65,000.

The city’s parks and recreation director last fall put the brakes on the project after the Waco Bicycle Club had already built a 4-ton steel truss bridge in cooperation with park workers.

An engineer with the bicycle club had designed the bridge to span an inlet on the rustic river trail between Emmons Cliff and Lovers Leap after a fallen cottonwood tree smashed the old wooden crossing in early 2016. The city spent about $6,000 on materials for the bridge.

But last fall, newly appointed parks and recreation director John Williams put the project on hold, saying the bridge might be too difficult to install in the narrow trail corridor under the bluffs. The bridge has a 32-foot span, with approaches that bring the length to 58 feet.

The city hired Winton Engineering at a cost of $4,500 to do a feasibility study for bridging the gap and to sign off on the soundness of the existing structure.

In late April, the consultant recommended installing the bridge, with a few modifications to the bridge railings. The bridge will be installed in late summer when the stream is dry and suitable for pouring concrete footings.

“The structure is adequate and appropriate for that location,” senior park planner Tom Balk said. “Compared to the alternatives, it’s still cheaper to utilize the bridge that has been built.”

Balk said parks officials had looked at putting a culvert in at the stream, but it would be too difficult to get the materials and equipment to the narrow trails between the Bosque River and the bluffs. The steel bridge will also be a challenge to install, but the structure was designed to be disassembled and carried in pieces.

The city expects to spend another $20,000 for design and bid documents for the bridge footings, plus $45,000 for the actual installation.

Bicycle club volunteers have offered to carry the pieces of the bridge down the wooded slope, but Balk said liability issues may keep the contractor from accepting that help.

In the meantime, trail users ford the stream using a jumble of logs and stumps cut from the fallen cottonwood tree.

Balk said the original primitive wooden crossing, also built by the bicycle club, served its purpose well, but it makes sense to upgrade now.

“What we had there was a low-water crossing made out of telephone poles,” Balk said. “We could have replaced it at a much lower cost, but we wanted to put it at a much higher level out of a desire to be out of the flood plain. . . . Both the city and its volunteers would prefer the time to be short and the cost low, and in other places a low-water crossing would be appropriate.”

But he said this section of trail is a “critical link,” and the steel bridge will be the best long-term solution .

“With the increased usage of the trail, it will be a benefit to the city and to potential emergency first responders to have a great access for vehicular access,” Balk said.

Trent Dougherty, president of the Waco Bicycle Club, said the bridge project has taken longer and cost more than expected, but he’s willing to do the project on the city’s terms.

“I don’t begrudge them for wanting to go through the process as they see fit,” he said. “I’m perfectly happy that it’s gone through extra layers of review. Do I think it’s absolutely necessary? No. But as far as the cost, that’s just the cost of doing things a different way.”

The bicycle club has built most of the 15 miles of hiking trails and associated bridges in Cameron Park during the past quarter-century and has had wide discretion in designing them.

Future trail improvements

Now the club and the city are working on a memorandum of understanding that will govern future trail improvements, subjecting them to city staff review and approval. Dougherty said he sees those requirements more as a benefit than a burden.

“I certainly want to say that so far, even though things have moved a little more slowly, I prefer the predictable,” he said. “I’m perfectly happy to have standards in place to know what the expectations are.”

Balk said the formal agreement is a sign of a changing park.

“We’re straddling a time when previously things were able to be accomplished with limited oversight and a time when there are different needs and different park usage,” he said. “This is an opportunity to re-examine future protocols. It’s to everybody’s benefit to codify our expectations.”

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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