Improvements slated this summer for area around West Montrose covered bridge

When it comes to improvements to the tourist experience around the West Montrose covered bridge, Woolwich plans to start small and go from there.

Changes such as a new stop sign, reflector posts and better washroom amenities are in the works for this year. Other suggestions from the West Montrose Residents’ Association such as additional parking at Gole Park and improvements to Letson Park require more study and funding. Some kind of public access to the river, meanwhile, is both a logistical and financial hurdle with no easy answer, notes a staff report presented last week to Woolwich council.

The report comes on the heels of the residents’ association, known as the BridgeKeepers, raising concerns about safety and inadequate infrastructure around the 130-year-old structure that has become a major tourist destination in the township. The group argues the current setup around the bridge isn’t up to snuff for some 60,000 people who visit the historic site each year.

This summer, the township can easily carry out the addition of another stop sign at the intersection of Hill Street and Covered Bridge Drive, for instance, said director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley. The same is true of replacing five reflective posts adjacent to Letson Park and undertaking a traffic study.

Likewise, the township will move quickly to upgrade what passes for washroom facilities – one standard porta potty in Letson Park. This summer, there’ll be two larger accessible units in Letson Park and another across the river in Gole Park.

One of the BridgeKeepers’ requests, the burying of hydro lines around the bridge to enhance the scenic view, is likely cost prohibitive, Kennaley suggested.

“Staff also believe that this will be an expensive proposition which Waterloo North Hydro will expect the Township to pay for and that cost implications will, therefore, need to be taken into account,” he notes in the report.

Likely to prove more cumbersome is any move to provide public access to the Grand River.  Currently, much of the land surrounding the bridge is private property. Visitors routinely trespass on residents’ property, whether launching a canoe or having a picnic.

Coun. Patrick Merlihan noted a public access point would alleviate that issue, but might not be what the residents favour.

The process would likely involve buying or leasing land from a current owner, with cost being an issue.

Coun. Murray Martin pointed out that problem is not a new one, with the problem remaining that the township would essentially have to wait for someone to make land available and, if past explorations are any indication, the costs would be a major barrier.

With that in mind, chief administrative officer David Brenneman suggested the township look at provincial funding that’s available for just that river access purpose.

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