Cornellians visiting the Fall Creek Gorge trails will notice that they have undergone a makeover, as the first phase of a University plan to improve the safety of the trails was completed in late October.
The latest wave of major renovations –– which began in May 2012 –– include the installation of more lighting, the repair of a historic stone staircase that runs beneath the suspension bridge, the creation of additional railings and the removal of hazardous trees along 2,200 feet of trails, according to Todd Bittner, director of natural areas for Cornell Plantations.In addition to renovating trails, Cornell Plantations staff assisted adding electrical lines beneath the trail. According to Bittner, these electrical lines will eventually provide power for security cameras on the bridges and increased trail lighting, which will be installed during the second phase of the gorge refurbishment.All of these repairs follow recommendations from a report released by the Gorge Safety Steering Committee. According to Bittner, these recommendations, which were accepted by President David Skorton in December, focused primarily on improving gorge safety education, providing safe alternative recreation areas in the gorges, increasing enforcement of safety measures and repairing the gorge trails.The University has given the project $360,000 to renovate the trails, Bittner said.A major part of the project is the upcoming development of four “destinations,” or designated seating areas which the University hopes will prevent trail users away from seeking out dangerous areas.“Those destinations are places where we envision having seating [and that have] magnificent views of the lake [and] the gorge. [These are] places that are part of that iconic landscape of Cornell University … making them all that much more enjoyable to experience,” Bittner said.Additionally, a new trail feature allows hikers to use their smartphones to scan QR codes that will connect them to the Cornell Plantations’ website and load trail maps.“[The maps] can take you to all of those trails and show you all of those great places to explore within the gorges and beyond,” Bittner said.Bittner said that past gorge refurbishment projects were “narrow in scope,” focusing only on specific sections of the trail. The current repairs are part of “a comprehensive project to repair [the trail] to the extent that it is safe by our standards today,” he said.But the project was not without its challenges, Bittner said.“The gorges themselves are inherently a challenging place to do infrastructure improvement projects due to the steep topography, so it required a lot of additional planning to get this type of construction project where we are,” Bittner said.Bittner said he hopes that the refurbishments will increase student use of the Fall Creek Gorge trails as well as the entire Cornell Plantations trail network, which includes 3,400 acres of land on and around campus.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Cornell Plantations staff assisted the building of the bridge nets currently being constructed.
Original Author: Noah Tulsky