Cornell’s Friends of the Gorges, which promotes recreation and safety in the gorges around Cornell and Ithaca, led a sunset hike along the Cascadilla Gorge Trail Monday to mark its path’s partial reopening following its closure in 2008.
The University initially allotted between $250,000 and $500,000 from the trustee-approved capital budget to repair gorge erosion and water overflow from the creek that had pushed hazardous material onto the paths, according to Facility Services’ website. The budget has since expanded to $1.2 million.
Cornell has currently finished rebuilding staircases, resurfacing trails, putting in handrails, and removing safety risks on the lower part of the trail from Treman Triangle — an open green space at Court Street and University Avenue — to the Stewart Avenue Bridge. The department is unsure, however, whether its new budget will be enough to reconstruct the trail’s upper region.
“We’ll make the money go as far as we can,” Todd Bittner, director of natural areas for Cornell Plantations, said. “But you really don’t know the extent of the damage until you actually start work.”
Unforeseen obstacles on the upper trail include a newly formed waterfall under Stewart Avenue that has caused extensive water and ice damage. The University remains confident, nonetheless, that it will finish the project by its original target of next fall.
“It’s really a learn-as-you-go process, but we can apply what we’ve learned from repairing the lower section of the trail to now fixing the upper section,” Bittner said.
The reconstruction team has identified hazardous areas on the upper trail and chosen railing and reinforcements for eroding regions. A consulting engineer specializing in geologic stability will present possible solutions for the waterfall in the coming weeks.
The erosion has also caused Facility Services to repair structures built just last fall. The same is likely to occur in the spring, barring an unusually tame winter. As a result, Bittner said the total cost of reconstructing the trail remains undetermined.
“It’s premature to speculate where we’ll be down the road because it’s such a dynamic system,” he said. “When the trail is safe we’ll open it fully, and that may mean the entire trail is passable even as we still have work to do.”
This uncertainty, however, is not new. The University had to constantly repair the trail since it opened in 1878, according to the Facility Services website.
The ultimate goal for both Friends of the Gorges — which plants trees, goes on biweekly hiking adventures and helps with trail upkeep — and the University is to open access to Cornell’s natural areas.
“One of our three main principles is safety, so it is important we wait until the gorge is safe enough for access,” Sarah Schoenberg ’11, president of Friends of the Gorges, said. “[Cornell] Plantations has been really diligent making sure natural areas are safe if people stay on the trails.”
The group consequently remains optimistic about the trail’s future.
“We have access to so many gorges, plantations and other natural areas that we didn’t miss Cascadilla terribly,” Zach Velcoff ’13, vice president of the group, said. “But it’s still great to have it back.”