November 29, 2012

After 2011 Storms, Cornell Receives Grant to Repair Gorge Trails

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In response to damage caused to the Cascadilla Gorge trail by both Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in Fall 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded Cornell an $880,000 grant to repair the trail on Nov. 19.

The grant will help the University repair the portion of the trail between Stewart and College Avenues that was damaged by flooding, according to Todd Bittner, director of natural areas for Cornell Plantations and the chair of Cornell’s Gorge Safety committee.

The University has been rebuilding gorges on and near campus since 2009. While the portion of Cascadilla Gorge trail between downtown Ithaca and Stewart Avenue had been repaired by September 2011, and thus was spared significant damage from the storms, the section of the trail between Stewart and College Avenues had not been worked on when the storms hit.

As a result, Bittner said, “the area [between] Stewart and College Avenues … was quite vulnerable.”

The FEMA grant will supplement funds already committed by the University to repairing the trail. Bittner said the University has committed $1.7 million to restoring Cascadilla Gorge trail –– $1.3 million of which has already been used. The grant, therefore, will prove indispensable to funding the remaining work on the trail, according to Bittner.

The grant will fund both debris removal and infrastructure repairs, according to Bittner.

“There’s been some rock and gravel and sand washed down into the trail and partially burying parts of the trail,” Bittner said. “Then there will be repairs to the trails themselves, staircases and railings.”

The grant will also allow the University to make the trail “less likely to be damaged” in the future, according to Bittner.

“We want to make the trail more resilient to damage in the future,” he said. “So for instance, instead of replacing the railings we have presently, which are wooden, we will replace them with black, metal railings that will withstand flooding better.”

He also said the grant will allow the University to raise sections of the trail that are most vulnerable to flooding by between 12 and 18 inches.

“That will give us some breathing room before the water eats into the trail again,” Bittner said in a University press release.

Bittner said he hopes the repairs will be completed by the end of 2013 –– though he acknowledged that the trail often sustains damage over the winter.

“If we don’t have significant new damage, it is our hope we will keep to that timetable,” he said.

Original Author: Kerry Close