The new footbridge makes this trek a lot easier, connecting existing trails on both sides of the creek with a graceful pedestrian treadway. It will also form an important link in the emerging network of recreational trails and greenways in the Niagara region. Based on an innovative design used in ecologically sensitive areas in New Zealand, the bridge is one of relatively few pedestrian suspension bridges in Canada.
Beyond the bridge and across Laura's Meadow, the trail continues to climb the escarpment's steep slopes at a manageable rate on newly-remediated walking paths built by Canadian specialist firm Sustainable Trails Inc. The entire 32km trail is being digitally mapped by Lori Steglinski and Leah Bercovitch as a major thesis project for the Niagara College Geographic Information Systems––Geospatial Management program.
Though greeted with some good-natured skepticism by the local media [ii], the group persisted. Under the tireless leadership of FLS Board Member and Trails Coordinator Ross MacDonald, FLS members worked for almost two years with many partners to obtain the necessary approvals to build the structure. Requirements included a year-long environmental impact assessment, geotechnical analysis, land surveying, fish habitat assessment, tree planting commitments, trail remediation, site preparation and improvement plans, and an extensive series of meetings amongst the many stakeholders at the grassroots, municipal, provincial, and federal levels to ensure that the natural integrity of the park site was protected.
A central concern was the design of the bridge itself. Conventional footbridges can have a significant impact on stream corridors, and the group wanted to ensure that the banks and waters of the creek were not damaged in any way. FLS Board member Prof. David T. Brown, who has led and Brock University field courses throughout New Zealand for several years, was impressed by the small structural footprint, economical design, durability and simple grace of suspension bridges used in ecologically sensitive areas throughout New Zealand by the NZ Department of Conservation. He thought they seemed like an ideal solution for the ecologically sensitive Short Hills Park environment, so bridge drawings were acquired, brought back to Canada, modified to the Canadian context, and approved for use at the historic crossing.
One of the most surprising and welcome developments in the bridge saga was the appearance of a mysterious private benefactor who showed up while the group was still struggling to obtain funding. Dubbed 'The Pontiff' (Latin for bridge builder) by FLS members, this magnanimous individual approached FLS President Caroline McCormick with an offer to provide an anonymous donation which covered more than half of the bridge's cost.
St. Catharines-based Rankin Construction took on the challenging tasks of adapting the design to Canadian conditions and installing the bridge in an ecologically sensitive manner within the park boundaries. The firm has also generously donated engineering and technical services, materials, equipment and labour to the project.
After the necessary work and site access permits were received, work crews from Rankin Construction and Sustainable Trails Inc. arrived onsite on 09 April 2013. The first task was to temporarily re-establish the original farm access roads which were in place on Jackson's Flats adjacent to First Street Louth until recent years, to allow passage of the construction equipment that would be used to excavate the small-footprint bridge footings and hoist the main bridge treadway beam into place. Progress was rapid. Ministry of Natural Resources supervisors flagged significant tree species which were flagged and fenced off with temporary plastic fencing for their protection. A minumum number of small saplings within the original farm roadbed were identified, marked, and removed (to be subsequently replaced with plantings of appropriate native species once construction was completed). Sediment barriers were erected along the watershed to ensure that the waters of the Twelve Mile Creek were not clouded by sediment or muddy runoff. Bridge footings were excavated, forms were installed, and concrete was pumped into the forms using a hose suspended across the creek. Excavation also occurred to install the concrete 'deadman' which anchored the ends of the suspension bridge cables on either side of the creek.
When the footings and deadmen were in place, it was time to install the prefabricated bridge truss, which had been assembled offsite and was carried in to the worksite in one piece. A crane was used to hoist the truss into place. The process was captured on video by City of St. Catharines Landcape Architect Stuart Green (below).
On Tuesday, May 9th, 2013, the main beam for the Bridge at Laura's Crossing was hoisted into place by crane. City of St. Catharines Landscape Architect Stuart Green captured the action with his digital video camera.The installation of this long-awaited bridge marked the realization of two cherished dreams of many in Niagara: 1) to establish a permanent memorial to Laura Secord at the point where she is believed to have crossed Twelve Mile Creek during her historic trek on 22 June 1813, and 2) to establish a dedicated pedestrian bridge across the creek to integrate the hiking trails of west St. Catharines with the trails to the north and east of the Niagara Escarpment.
Video footage courtesy Stuart Green, OALA, Landscape Architect , City of St. Catharines Parks and Recreation Department.
The final bridge installation was opened on 01 June 2013, and dedicated by Mayor Brian McMullan of St. Catharines and Mrs. Laureen Harper, wife of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on 22 June 2013 - 200 years to the day after Laura Secord's famous walk.