A few years ago, Dick Norford of Bike Harrisburg convinced the city’s mayor to participate in the annual Tour de Belt.
All went well until the bike ride around Capital Area Greenbelt hit the city’s lower river walk.
“It was a bumpy ride, to say the least,” Mayor Eric Papenfuse said today. “It was wonderful fun but very dangerous.”
That ride convinced Papenfuse that something needed to be done to fix the century-old lower river walk, which, over the years, had deteriorated so much that the concrete had completely crumbled in spots.
He turned the project over to city Engineer Wayne Martin, who applied for—and received—a $1.5 million federal Transportation Alternative Program grant, which is designed to assist and promote non-motorized transportation. The city kicked in about $160,000, and that was enough to largely repave the two-mile stretch from Shipoke to Maclay Street.
This morning, the city cut the ribbon on the project, joined by a group of bicyclists, who took a ceremonial first ride on the newly laid white concrete, which shone brilliantly in the sunshine.
Norford explained that the river walk and steps were part of Harrisburg’s City Beautiful movement of the early 20th century, which gave the city numerous parks, as well as paved roads and a functioning sewer system.
In fact, the walk itself came into existence to shield a sewer interceptor, which runs beneath it.
“This is such a vital link because the Greenbelt is not just a beautiful recreational trail,” Norford said. “When a city is more inviting to walking and biking, it’s a better place to work, a better place to live and a better place to play.”
The project actually began several years ago, when the walk along the Shipoke waterfront—badly damaged from the 2011 flood—was replaced. Work kicked in again last fall, took a break for the winter and started up again in spring.
The project laid new concrete along much of the 10,275-linear-foot walk from Shipoke to Maclay Street, though, in a few places, old walk was repaired, not replaced, due to funding restrictions.
The project only replaced the river walk itself, not the stairs leading to the Susquehanna River. Fixing the steps, Martin said, is a massively expensive project, though the city might be able to patch some areas.
Papenfuse also mentioned that the city weeded the steps, which had become overgrown in spots, in time for the city’s Kipona festival, which begins on Saturday and, he said, will attract more than 100,000 visitors over the three-day event.
“They’ll get to experience the wire-walkers and the food vendors and all the fun,” he said. “But they’ll also get to see our marvelous new river walk.”