Trail fountain plans take step back

Plans to install a water fountain alongside La Cañada Flintridge’s Ultimate Destination trail are taking a more meandering path to completion than originally anticipated by the city, which now is splitting the project into two phases.

Liz Blackwelder, the longtime local trails advocate whose $32,000 donation to the city spurred it into action more than two years ago, said she sees the project as the final piece of the city-wide 12-mile loop trail that was completed in March of this year.

The problem is that the project’s estimated cost has grown from $100,000 to $131,560 as the logistics of running plumbing up to the trail have proven more difficult than expected. As a result, the city council voted to complete design and engineering work this year without touching Blackwelder’s donation, and to wait till the next fiscal year to begin construction. The estimated completion date is 2013.

Blackwelder said that while she understands the city had to find the resources, she doesn’t want the project kept on the back burner or to be forgotten.

“Let me know if you’re really sympathetic to this project or not, and if not, I would like my donation returned, and I think that’s reasonable,” she told the council at its regular meeting Monday night.

Councilman Donald Voss echoed statements made by the rest of the council when he told Blackwelder that while the city fully supports the construction of a drinking fountain at Ultimate Destination, the costs of the project necessitated the longer timeline.

“We pushed for this project in the budget hearings and that’s why it’s being talked about in the first place,” said Voss. “I think the two-phase approach outlined here is the best way to get our arms around the project.”

Mayor David Spence said that if more donors come forward to help pay for the project, the council would help facilitate any tax write-offs it could, and that he hoped donations could help close the gap between the project’s cost and the city’s available budget. No state grants are currently available for the work, he said.

Blackwelder said after the meeting that she was sympathetic to the city’s budgetary issues.

“I understand why it’s the approach they have to take,” she said. “My donation was given to get their attention and show them my dedication to the project. I didn’t think it would be sufficient.”

Still, Blackwelder said she is worried that the scope of the project has started to grow out of hand, after the possibility of installing restrooms and running power to the site was raised by city staff.

“I never was [requesting] bathrooms and electricity, this was never the principle. I was just making water as a real necessity up there if people are going to stop and enjoy the area,” said Blackwelder.

Randy Strapazon, a former president of La Cañada Trails Council, was on hand Monday to lend support to Blackwelder. She said that while it might be years before a water fountain came to Ultimate Destination, she knew Blackwelder would keep pushing.

“It’s a leap of faith in some ways,” said Strapazon. “But I would never have envisioned the loop trail, to be honest, but Liz has for 40 years envisioned that, and quietly prodded [city officials] to come along.”

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