City leaders broke ground on the latest portion of the Hot Springs Creek Greenway Trail Thursday, and work on the 240-day project is expected to start Monday.
The newest portion of the trail, dubbed the Southern Trail, will extend the current trail one mile to Television Hill Road, crossing Hot Springs Creek twice.
"It's a 240-day contract, designed to be that," Hot Springs Parks and Trails Director Anthony Whittington said. "With the two 70-foot timber bridges, there is a chance that we might have to ask for a slight extension depending on how quick we get them back from the bridge company and have them installed because ... they're built off-site and brought in. So that will be the biggest holdup. It'll be 100% asphalt like we're standing on right now."
Whittington said this will be the first time the trail will be away from roads, businesses and residences.
"This section is the first time that we don't have to go behind people's houses; we're not going behind businesses, which are great," he said. "But this section, as you can see, we get to go to the woods for the first time. We get to see a peaceful walk. We won't hear cars going by; we'll just hear the creek flowing. And so it's going to be a really nice, really nice section of trail. It's going to be peaceful. We're just going to carve out a minimal area through the woods, try to keep it as natural looking as possible."
At the end of the current extension will be the Jean W. Wallace Wetlands Trailhead, which will be put out for bids Monday.
"It's called the wetlands trailhead because immediately south, right before you get to the bypass bridge there is some certified federal wetlands areas that we will have to boardwalk some areas once we get below the trailhead," Whittington said. "The trailhead is a circle drive. It's a one-way in and out.
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"There'll be 24 parking spots on the circle. Inside the circle, we'll probably have a sculpture or water feature of some kind, you know, for beautification purposes, but there'll be some picnic tables, shade kites, kind of a mini park down there. Probably won't have a playground per se but have some seating areas and stuff like that."
Whittington said with the new extension there will be access off Central Avenue.
"South Hot Springs residents and Central Avenue residents will have direct access to the trail," he said. "This will be the first time that's ever happened. They've had to drive to a trailhead to Hollywood or to the Transportation Depot. But this is the first time they get to experience the Greenway themselves, so we're excited about that."
Mayor Pat McCabe praised the dedication of everyone who helped to bring the newest portion of the Greenway Trail to fruition.
"These projects require a long-term vision ... and dedication from a number of people," he said, "These are little bites that we take each and every four or five years, it seems like."
McCabe recalled when the project began that he would hear complaints no one was on the trail, but that has changed.
"A lot of people are using that trailhead, obviously for exercise and enjoyment, but being able to connect neighborhoods to the trails is an amenity," he said. "It's also going to certainly enhance their property value. ... This whole section is going to be very, very popular as well. You know, you've got people who walk, and they'd keep walking if the trail just continued."
District 5 Director Karen Garcia said the connections the trail makes to communities are needed.
"Coming out of COVID the last two years we all need connections," she said. "We get connections here with nature. We get connections to other people. You meet neighbors. You talk to people whether you're walking, bicycling, you stop and talk to somebody. You even stop and have lunch or breakfast here when you're out bicycling. It's for all of us to enjoy. This is not for anybody (in particular). We're all the same when it comes to enjoying the Greenway and our park system."
Hot Springs Friends of the Parks President Ned Skoog continued the common theme about connectivity during the ceremony.
"Of course, (this is) a culmination of a lot of work by an awful lot of people," he said. "We as Friends of the Parks just try to help some with funds or time, and I'd like to mention there are a lot of plans and activities going on beyond this even."
He said they "plan to continue to help doing just that. So there are other trails -- Stokes Creek and the like -- that are in the works and all that'll just add to the connectivity."
Whittington said the trail extension will be similar to the rest of the trail, 12 feet wide and asphalt paved with the two timber bridges across Hot Springs Creek.
The goal for the trail is to extend to San Carlos Point on Lake Hamilton, and the city plans to add a kayak launch point off the trail.
"One cool thing we're going to do: as soon as we go under the bypass and come out, we're going to put a kayak/canoe launch in below the trail," Whittington said. "So where the creek flows into Lake Hamilton, we'll have a long concrete ramp and people can have access to (launch) kayaks/canoes, and so we'll push a road in beside the bridge and have that, as well."