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Lincoln's Wilderness Park looks to fix bridges and update its master plan

Lincoln's Wilderness Park looks to fix bridges and update its master plan

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LINCOLN (AP) — Kyle Clouston started running the tree-lined trails of Wilderness Park with his Lincoln East High School cross country team 20 years ago, and he never really left.

The ultra-marathoner trains there three to four times a week, sometimes logging 50 miles in a single session.

"It's secluded, in a good way. You don't have to worry about road crossings and other traffic. I see more deer out there than I do people."

But he's been running into closed bridges lately, making it difficult to piece together longer loops from the park's trail system.

"My route has had to alter," he told the Lincoln Journal Star. "It's forced me to shorten the route or explore alternatives."

The 1,470-acre park on Lincoln's southwest side hugs Salt Creek and its tributaries, creating a 7-mile ribbon of trees and trails stretching from Saltillo Road to Van Dorn Street. The winding waterways keep the park wild — nurturing the woods, attracting animals and making straight lines impractical. But they also require a series of bridges to keep the park connected.

The city is on the verge of replacing one bridge, repairing a second and removing a third. It's also launching a long-term look at the future of the park — and the bridges, low-water crossings and reroutes needed for users to move from one side to the other.

The city had planned to be finished with the southernmost bridge, a 120-foot span over Salt Creek near Saltillo Road, this year. But it hasn't even started construction: Bids came in higher than the $430,000 cost the city had budgeted.

The city increased its budget and rebid the project. It now plans to award a contract and begin work this winter, said Sara Hartzell, a planner with the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department.

The original Wilderness South Bridge collapsed nine years ago after a group of children jumped on it in unison, trying to make it sway.

Northwest of the 14th Street trailhead, the Yankee Hill Horse Bridge has been closed since 2017, after the railings disappeared and an inspector found too much bounce. The city was set to fix the bridge this year — and had the engineering and permits in hand — but those bids also came in too high.

But the bridge causing the most concern for users is the Hinterlands Bridge, a 65-foot narrow walkway over a Salt Creek tributary near the old Rock Island railroad trestle. The bridge connects the Old Cheney Road and South 14th Street trailheads on the park's east side, one of the most popular stretches of single-track.

An inspector was looking for rot this fall in one of its pilings, hitting it with his hammer, when the piling snapped.

The city closed the bridge, determined that it couldn't be repaired and hired a contractor to haul it away. And it has no immediate plans to replace it, she said.

The bridge problems are playing out against a bigger backdrop — a rewrite of the park's master plan, last updated in 2000.

The update will focus on user experience, trailheads, trails, signs and stream crossings — either bridges or low-water crossings.

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