Just as ideal fall cycling and running weather is setting in, the hike-and-bike trail at Lake Waco is closing for about three months, starting Tuesday.

But U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials say it has to be done to protect the dam.

Starting this week, crews will start on a $1 million project to reconstruct the top of the dam to eliminate deep cracks in the soil and prevent new ones.

The Corps just finished spending $2 million to fix landslides that occurred around the spillway and on the downstream embankment in the first half of 2016.

“The slide is corrected, but we believe the cause of the slide was longitudinal cracking on the roadway,” said Corps lake manager Heath McLane.

He said some of the cracks were up to 6 inches wide and have allowed heavy rain to infiltrate and weaken the subsoil.

He said the overall integrity of the dam is not endangered, but the problem needs to be addressed before it gets worse. Crews will scrape the asphalt and base off the dam trail and dig out three feet of clay beneath. They will repack the clay, then replace the base and asphalt, adding a 3-foot-wide ribbon curb on the downstream edge of the dam.

“It will be a brand-new road,” McLane said.

The 2.8-mile trail hasn’t been resurfaced since it was built in 2000 as part of a $6.5 million project to raise the height of the dam. It has been popular for pedestrians and cyclists and has been used for races.

“The dam is a terrific place to walk and I’m sure the people who walk there regularly will really miss it,” said Ashley Bean Thornton, organizer of the Waco Walks pedestrian advocacy group. “I imagine it will be a terrific place to walk again once they get the repairs made to the structure. Meanwhile, we have lots of wonderful places to walk in Waco. I’m excited about the east side of the river trail opening up soon and we already have the rest of the river trail available.”

The trail was closed in late 2015 and early 2016 for a maintenance project on the dam’s giant Tainter gates.

More phases of work are scheduled for those gates, including a paint job, but McLane said he expects that work will only require trail closures of a few days at a time.

“We’re trying to leave it open as much as possible unless we have a lot of machinery out there,” he said.

In addition to the dam embankment slide in summer 2016, Lake Waco’s other infrastructure has taken a beating from the weather over the past three years. Heavy flooding in mid-2015 and mid-2016 damaged roads and parks. The local Corps office, with eight workers and no extra repair budget, has cleaned up and reopened the parks, though some repair needs remain.

A contractor is set next week to begin work on a $220,000 project to replace picnic shelters that were destroyed by wave action last year. In addition, Midway Park is currently closed as contractors resurface roads there.

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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