TOP: This Google Map photo of a portion of Fall River in downtown Hot Springs has been modified to illustrate the work being done to the river between Jenninges Avenue (lower right) north to just past the walking bridge in front of City Hall. The light blue shows the now widened river channel and the dashed line to the left of the river will be where a grass walkway will be constructed using geogrid pavers. The red lines in the river represent where small weirs/dams will be built to create bubbling waterfalls. (Image courtesy City Administrator John Gregory)
BOTTOM: Taken from the new Jennings Avenue bridge, this photo shows how city crews have reshaped Fall River in front of City Hall along North River Street. Pictured in the foreground is a new “Lounging Island” that was also created just north of the Jennings Avenue bridge. (Photo by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald-Star)
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – City of Hot Springs crews spent considerable time last week, and early this week, working on the Fall River reconstruction project between the Jennings Avenue bridge and the walking bridge in front of City Hall.
The efforts by city personnel picked up on the work performed late last year by two other companies – Heinert Construction and Dietzler Construction – who both removed a considerable amount of cattails from the river bottom and also did some rough landscaping to reshape the river.
Dietzler was the firm hired by the state to replace the Jennings Avenue bridge, and in the process, worked with the city to remove some additional cattails in the process. Heinert was hired by the city for $40,000 to begin the Fall River reconstruction project by building an access ramp down to the river from Centennial Park, while also removing cattails and cleaning up the area around the large storm culvert below the park’s music stage.
According to City Administrator John Gregory, the city crews expanded on the project by continuing to do landscape work along the river shore, which included pulling rock, soil and debris away from the retaining wall to create an extended shoreline. While doing so, crews also uncovered the wall’s weep holes which allowed a great deal of trapped water to drain from behind the wall.
City crews then also hauled in several loads of topsoil which was placed on top of the graded aggregate drainage layer that had been moved down to the river previously in order to provide a solid base to the newly shaped river edge. They also built a small island in the river north of the Jennings Bridge last week as well.
The overall goal by the City of Hot Springs is to create a more picturesque and accessible river area below the planned North River Street suspended sidewalk that will be constructed between Jennings Avenue and Minnekahta Avenue, as part of the Hwy. 385 reconstruction project which is hoped to begin in late 2021 / early 2022.
Despite the sidewalk not expected to be completed for another two-plus years, the river work below the suspended sidewalk is seeing considerable amount of progress already. Gregory said city crews will be wrapping up their rough landscaping in the area in front of City Hall this week. An RFP (Request For Proposals) for the landscaping work will be publicly offered to provide sod installation and native flora plantings, later this spring.
Thus far, the cattails have only been removed from the Jennings Avenue bridge and north to the storm culvert in Centennial Park, however, Gregory said the plan is to eventually remove all the cattails and reconstruct the river from University Avenue (the viaduct) all the way to Minnekahta. The next area to be addressed will be between Jennings Avenue and University, with this work commencing hopefully by mid-April, Gregory said. As part of this next phase, an additional access ramp to the river will be constructed along the south side of the viaduct on some recently acquired city property which had been part of the state’s right-of-way before the city took over responsibility of University Avenue (Hwy. 18).
Last week, Gregory also shared his plans to utilize an interlocking hard-grid system (a geogrid paver sidewalk) for a pedestrian walkway along the river, as opposed to constructing a concrete sidewalk similar to the nearby Freedom Trail. He said the 3-foot x 3-foot grids will provide a hard surface for wheelchairs and other wheeled modes of transportation, but they also allow grass to grow up through them for a more natural look. The “walkways” would then also get mowed right along with the surrounding grassy area.