When the Flint Bridge over Routes 5 & 20 was struck by a truck, just four years after being restored, members of Ontario Pathways wondered if it meant the end for an important trail connection. But, on National Trails Day, a large crowd gathered on a new bridge to celebrate the return of continuous trail between Canandaigua and Clifton Springs.
Challenges are nothing new to Ontario Pathways. When the group purchased 23 miles of abandoned rail corridor in 1993, they were (and still are) one of only a few groups to actually own their trail. For more than 20 years, Ontario Pathways has worked to develop and maintain their trail, all with donations and volunteers, never any government funding. It wasn’t until 2006 that more than 100 Ontario Pathways members installed new deck and railing on the former five-span rail bridge over Routes 5 & 20 in the hamlet of Flint, fully joining all portions of the Ontario Pathways trail system.
Less than four years later, a spray rig on a flatbed truck hit the Flint Bridge knocking it off its abutments and severing the Ontario Pathways trail system once again. “When I saw our bridge lying in the road I was stunned. I knew how much effort all the volunteers had put into renovating that bridge just a few years previously. The path forward wasn’t clear to me, and it seemed more likely than not that we would be unable to replace what was now scrap metal,” said Andy Spittal, chairperson of the Flint Bridge Replacement Committee. There was a lot to do to keep the many miles of trail in good condition and a large new project – in fact the single biggest project in the history of the organization – was going to be a real stretch. Everyone who had played a major role in previously restoring the Flint Bridge declined to become involved again, but others stepped up to create a bridge committee with just the right combination of skills and experience to get the job done.
The committee also selected excellent professionals to help them. The project engineer came up with a clever and attractive design adapted to the old abutments; a construction attorney helped navigate the shoals associated with installing a private bridge over a state highway, funded by an insurance company; and a dedicated contractor oversaw all aspects of the bridge’s fabrication from the factory in Minnesota until it was dropped into place in 15 minutes on an April morning.
“Thinking back to the day we lost the bridge, and knowing now just how much had to go Ontario Pathways’ way and fall into place for this opening to happen, it seems amazing that we succeeded. It hasn’t always been easy or straight forward, but time after time a solution has appeared out of nowhere just when we needed it. Even when there were issues, the parties involved were trying to be helpful within the parameters of their processes. It represents a solid foundation of goodwill that underpins our magnificent new bridge, and which will serve us well in the years ahead,” added Spittal on National Trails Day as he helped to cut the bridge’s grape vine “ribbon.”