Strolling by the river

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Decades after it was torn down to make room for the floodwall in downtown Cape Girardeau, a nearly century-old concrete retaining wall has been restored and incorporated into part of the city's new riverfront trail.

The southern part of the trail is now open for visitors who want a better view of the Mississippi River. The wall originally was built by the Frisco Railroad in 1911 as part of a riverfront improvement project.

Teresa McCutchen of Sikeston, Mo., likes the idea of an expanded walkway for riverfront visitors. She doesn't get to see the river often, but Friday afternoon was a nice day to visit, she said.

Sharon Stuckey of Benton, Mo., and Jay House of Chaffee, Mo., enjoy visits to Riverfront Park.

"We just come to relax and enjoy the scenery," Stuckey said.

The pair sat on a park bench overlooking the river north of the completed trail. "It's quiet and peaceful," House said.

The new trail, with its north and south sections, gives the city an expanded Riverfront Park. The north section is still under construction, but the southern portion, which begins at the Themis Street floodgate and goes for 923 feet, is open. The northern phase begins at the Broadway gate and goes north for 750 feet.

The two projects were bid separately by the city, and both contracts were awarded to Nip Kelley Equipment Co. The price tag for the combined work was $711,505.

Most of the funding -- 80 percent -- came from grants through the Missouri Department of Transportation. The city had to pay 20 percent, which was allocated in past city budgets.

"If we had to do it today, the situation would be different," said Kent Bratton, city planner.

Cape Girardeau now is in a cost-cutting position.

The city has been fortunate to receive the grants, which actually are part of a federal highway bill that requires some transportation money be used for enhancement projects, Bratton said.

Scott Meyer, district engineer for MoDOT, said most of this region's enhancement projects are pedestrian trails, sidewalks, and bicycle trails. Other projects in Cape Girardeau have included money to construct the Red House Interpretive Center because of its historic relevance, tree plantings along Highway 74 and lighting for the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge.

Some of the monies are spent on plantings, but city parks director Dan Muser said that wouldn't be feasible for the walkway. "I've heard off and on that we should have trees, but it's not practical."

People tend to think a park must mean the area has grass and trees. Riverfront Park doesn't have that. It has benches, water and cobblestones.

"What we have down there is nice," Muser said. And the new trail will improve that, since it expands the area three times over.

The city parks department will maintain the new trail much as it does the La Croix trail that connects the Osage Community Centre, Arena Park and Shawnee Park.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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