Approximately 150 people attended an open house at the Sunset Hills Community Center on Aug. 20 about the new Interstate 44 bridge over the Meramec River. Not all were comfortable with the plans presented.
The session spotlighted a proposed path for walkers and bicyclists for trail connections and amenities associated with the future shared-use pedestrian bridge.
City officials from Fenton, Kirkwood and Sunset Hills, along with project partners Great Rivers Greenway and the Missouri Department of Transportation, expect bids for the project’s construction to go out in 2020.
Fenton Parks and Recreation Director Tye Lydon attended the open house, along with Fenton Alderman Joe Maurath.
“I was surprised to learn the plans didn’t necessarily include restrooms on the Fenton side of the bridge,” said Maurath, who stated he was told current funding may now not cover restroom facilities that were part of the original $51 million plans shared with representatives of all three cities involved.
During July 2018, officials of the three municipalities were asked to enter into a $978,870 grant agreement with the St. Louis County Municipal Park Grant Commission for the project.
Regarding the future shared-use bridge, others are concerned about possible harmful environmental effects and ecological habitat damage for birds and wildlife. Members of the Friends of Emmenegger Nature Park strongly urge: “Bike the west side of the river, hike the east side.”
Kirkwood resident Gwyn Wahlmann said the Emmenegger Nature Park group is not opposed to the proposed Meramec River pedestrian bridge, which will allow bicyclists and pedestrians to cross the river from Stoneywood Drive to an existing paved bike trail on the west (Fenton) side of the river.
However, Wahlmann said they are against including Emmenegger Nature Park in trailhead plans, and any future bike trail expansion along the east Meramec riverfront.
“Together, Emmenegger Nature Park and the Sunset Hills bluff forest are like a living natural history museum, a rare, local remnant of Ozark riverine habitat. Conjoined beneath the Interstate 44/Meramec River bridges, these riverfront natural areas form the last intact bird-wildlife mobility corridor from the Meramec to the Mississippi,” she said.
“The riverfront has been a vital wildlife connectivity corridor for millions of years. Now it’s all that’s left in our highly developed area,” Wahlmann added.
She said current trailhead plans include a “river overlook” beneath the highway bridges, bisecting the Emmenegger/Sunset Hills bluff forest bird-wildlife corridor at its critical link.
“A river overlook is unneeded. The view of the river and scenic bluffs are far more beautiful seen from the Fenton side. Far worse, the river overlook would be a sleeper cell or Trojan horse for future bike trail development up and down the natural east riverfront,” said Wahlmann.
She said both Sunset Hills and Kirkwood representatives have told residents there are no such east riverfront bike trail plans.
Fenton Alderman Maurath said that while he is not against bridge paths, he is sympathetic to those who are concerned about local wetlands and wildlife.
“We should look at the effects of these proposed plans before destroying what natural resources we have,” he added.
The next public meeting regarding designs for this project is Oct. 15, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at RiverChase Recreation Center in Fenton.