St. Thomas Elevated Park to be completed Wednesday
ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- A dream of turning the former Michigan Rail bridge in St. Thomas to a place of serenity is nearly complete.
"In three years we managed to essentially complete the project with community donations no tax dollars," says Serge Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas.
The team bought the bridge in 2013, but didn't begin construction until 2017.
Wednesday will see the finishing touches added to the Elevated Park when newly wired electricity will be turned on.
Over the past month they have installed surveillance cameras, as well as fully wired lighting on the bridge and on the path leading to the park. The final touches were made possible by a large donation from the Donna Evans Bushell Estate.
"Every year has brought huge improvement," says Lavoie.
"We have put in the wooden boardwalk, then it was the sidewalk. This year the new grass is in and by next year it will really feel like a park. The new art we are bringing in, and then the trail that goes an extra 3.5 km. Soon we'll have the arboretum line because we'll be planting a series of trees there, and the project has expanded a lot since we envisioned it."
Those who walk the bridge on a regular basis have seen the progression.
"I've seen it from start to finish," says Randy Butler, who walks the seven kilometre path everyday.
"Everything has been a great upgrade, especially the lighting systems. Once next summer comes so many people will be having 'upstairs picnics' on the grass."
Roger Murray also noticed the recent changes.
"We were skeptical at first, but It really is a great place to walk," says Murray. "We've done the whole loop going up to Lyle Side Road. I'm glad to see the security cameras and lighting, it's going to be awesome up here."
Security cameras and lighting were necessary after Christine Dewancker's artwork 'The Faraway Nearby' was damaged multiple times. It has since been reconstructed and bolted to the bridge. They will re-light it this week.
The bridge sees hundreds of visitors daily, and on weekends they receive more than 1,000.
Now that the park is essentially complete the marketing efforts will ramp up to try to bring more exposure.
"It is connected to the Great Trail, and there is amazing public art up there," says Megan Pickersgill, tourism manager for the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation.
"We're going to be promoting it as a perfect COVID-19 friendly activity. You can see artwork from the road as you are driving under it. It creates curiosity and we just need to get people from that underpass and get them circling and coming back up."
Some of the next steps will be directional signage.
"It can be tricky for people to get up there, but if they can get to Jumbo they can get to the Elevated Park," says Pickersgill.
Lavoie says anyone that spends time on the bridge will see bikers, walkers, joggers and groups.
"It's what we had hoped would happen, and it's happened."