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Hot Springs city crews begin construction of Freedom Trail North Expansion

HOT SPRINGS – The community of Hot Springs’ outdoor recreational opportunities will soon be expanded as the city began work on the Freedom Trail North Expansion project last week. While the project is considered more of an isolated piece to the larger Freedom Trail system, City Engineer Tracy Bastian said the hope is to eventually connect with the main Freedom Trail which currently ends at Kidney Springs.

The current project – which encompasses approximately 1,600-feet from the north parking lot of Evans Plunge to Chautauqua Park – was originally drawn up by Bastian about 7 or 8 years ago, he said. But recently, thanks in-part to a grant which paid for inmate labor to clear foliage and debris along Hot Brook Creek and Fall River, the project finally got approval to break ground and has city crews now working in the area. According to new City Administrator Kim Barbieri, the new trail is expected to be completed sometime yet this fall.

“It will have a much more wilderness feel to it, in comparison to the rest of the Freedom Trail,” Bastian said, while describing what people can expect to see when they can start walking on the trail. “We’ve been looking forward to doing it for a long time. It should be one of the prettiest sections of trail around, located right on the edge of town.”

Bastian said his intentions when he created the plans for the North Expansion was part of a much larger plan for enhancing the river channel through town, which included cleaning up the river and creating water features.

“I have more hope now than ever that this will eventually happen,” Bastian said, citing the state’s planned road reconstruction project combined with the city’s current hope of implementing a cantilever sidewalk system along North River Street. “There’s some momentum now to get it going.”

Composed of base course gravel initially, the new Freedom Trail North Expansion will have a main leg which is approximately 1,300-feet, that begins near the pump station on the north end of the Evans Plunge parking lot. It will cross Cold Brook Avenue and then climb north into a wooded area before turning west to follow a cliff wall below Evergreen Cemetery. About halfway along the trail, it will fork, with the main trail descending to the south towards the river where a bridge will take pedestrians across Hot Brook Creek. From that point, the path will then follow Hot Brook Canyon Road and utilize the old railroad path which will lead to the entrance of Chautauqua Park.

Back up at the “fork” – near the path’s halfway point – pedestrians have the option of taking a short 300-foot off-shoot which will continue to follow the cliff line and lead to an overlook. Bastian said he hopes to eventually create a footpath at the end of this 300-foot spur that will allow people to complete the journey to Chautauqua Park, but currently, that portion of the trail will end just short.

Bastian said there are plans to create a plaque display or kiosk of some kind inside Evans Plunge to help entice visiting tourists to walk the trail after their time enjoying the warm mineral waters of the Plunge.

“Anytime you can get visitors to stay around longer – even if only for a few more minutes to walk a trail – it translates into an economic benefit, as they may decide to stay longer to eat a meal or shop in a store,” Bastian added, while citing how the North River Street plans to construct the cantilever sidewalk will also have the same effect, in addition to its primary safety purpose.

Mayor George Kotti agreed with Bastian’s assessment of how the new Freedom Trail expansion will be yet another nice enhancement to the community. Kotti added that all of the work for the project was being done with in-house labor and would be paid for within the Parks Department’s regular budget.

Bastian said the bridge being utilized for the trail expansion was something the city already had in its possession, as it was originally going to be used – but was not necessary – as the second portion of the current bridge behind the Mueller Center.

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