Rebuild begins at Beaver Brook walkway destroyed by 2012 fire

A once-popular boardwalk in a West Avenue park that was destroyed by a 2012 brush fire is finally being replaced.
Construction equipment stood ready at the Beaver Brook Trail site on West Avenue this week in preparation for rebuilding the wooden walkway, which was part of a 1.1-mile walking trail that loops around marshland and trees.
Some of the money to rebuild the walkway was approved in 2014, and the city’s Inland Wetlands Agency approved plans to rebuild it in 2016.
But when the city sent the project out to bid, prices came in much higher than anticipated, keeping the project on hold.
“We had estimated the project at $700,000, and went out to bid,” said Open Space Manager Steven Johnson, noting that the project then included upgrades to the parking area and some invasive species elimination. “It came in at $960,000 to $1.5 million. It was far beyond our ability to move forward.”
More recently the project was scaled back to just include the boardwalk replacement and sent out to bid again. Millennium Builders, the company that dredged the city duck ponds last year, was awarded the contract with a bid of $724,800, Johnson said.
The project is expected to be completed by May or early June.
Following the 2012 blaze, officials said that overgrowths of invasive weeds such as phragmites and purple loosestrife contributed to the fire, combined with an exceptionally warm and dry winter and spring that year.
Johnson said the 57-acre property at 553 West Avenue, which is owned by Kingdom Life Christian Church, has two conservation easements, one on the 41-acre marsh, and the other is a 25-foot wide right of way around the marsh on which the trail and boardwalk are located.
Because the city owns the rights to the boardwalk, which was not insured at the time of the fire, it was up to the city to replace it, Johnson said.
The city received a $500,000 Small Town Economic Assistance (STEAP) grant in 2014 for the project. That money, plus city open space funds and other city funds, will pay for the reconstruction.
The city previously used a $45,000 Community Development Block Grant to pay for design and permitting.
The new boardwalk will be slightly longer than it was before, measuring about 1,232 feet in length. It will be six feet wide and have a wide bump-out area for standing and looking at nature, as on the original boardwalk.
Phragmites management, which will help minimize any fire hazard, will be part of a future project phase.
“Once the boardwalk is completed, we will be assessing the options to manage it further,” Johnson said, adding that the marsh is dense with phragmites.
The new boardwalk will be made of pressure treated wood. Other material might have been better, but Johnson said it was cost prohibitive.
The Iroquois gas pipeline runs through the property, and Iroquois representatives will be on-site as needed to make sure all safety measures are taken.
Johnson is working on securing additional funding to complete other planned improvements for the parking lot area and an accessible path leading from the parking lot to the base of the foot path.
Mayor Ben Blake said those future improvements will make the trail system handicap accessible.
“There are several phases to the project,” Blake said.
According to a trail description, waterfowl and other wildlife can be viewed in the marsh and near forested areas. Ospreys have nested nearby and are seen there, too.
“Turtles, green frogs and northern water snakes can be seen along the edge of the marsh and sunning themselves on marsh logs,” according to the trail description.
Blake said he is happy to see the project moving forward.
“I think it will be neat, something people will enjoy,” Blake said. “It’s a nice place to walk and hike.”
In 2017 Grillo Services received permission to built 342 apartments on a portion of the property that is not included in the conservation easement where the trail and marsh are located. Lawrence Grillo said this week that Grillo will start the project once it has secured a buyer for the apartment complex.