Some aficionados of the Fabyan Forest Preserve believe the concrete bridge that spans the portion of the Fox River between the mainland and a patch of earth known as "The Island" has stood for more than 100 years. It may not be standing much longer.
Kane County Forest Preserve District commissioners are considering leveling the bridge. The district closed public access to it in late September following the discovery of a 4-inch crack in the concrete. Officials initially planned to repair the bridge, but some forest preserve commissioners favor a plan that may improve the flow of water in that section of the river, in part, by removing the bridge.
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However, the crossing is part of a popular path that joins the Fabyan West and Fabyan East Forest Preserves, providing access to the historic windmill and Japanese Garden in the same visit.
Part of the problem for commissioners is the so-called "Island" is actually a peninsula. A causeway juts out from the western preserve to the island. From there, a wooden and steel bridge allows access to Fabyan East. The wooden and steel bridge also connects to the concrete bridge that is in disrepair. However, there are no plans to tear down the wooden and steel portion of the river crossing. That would still allow Fabyan fans to cross the river via the causeway and the wooden and steel bridge. But commissioners also have plans for the causeway.
"I've long been a proponent of opening up the causeway," said Commissioner Drew Frasz. "Right now it violates just about every rule there is for water moving in an open waterway. This would allow some flow back through the western channel."
Darlene Larson has no problem with improving the water flow. But she and the rest of the Friends of Fabyan group believe the concrete bridge must either be saved, or, as a last resort, replaced by another bridge.
Larson said the loss of the bridge would add another 15 minutes of walking to anyone who wants to cross the river and visit all the attractions the preserve has to offer. But more important is the historic legacy of the bridge, she said.
"Is the bridge of historic importance? Of course it is," Larson said. "Anything on that property connected to Fabyan's legacy has historic value. So not only is it an important pedestrian thoroughfare, but it would just be sad to lose it."
Larson attributes the poor condition of the bridge to a lack of maintenance by the forest preserve district. The poor water flow through the causeway is evidence of that, she said. Larson said there are 15 existing ducts in the causeway designed to allow water to flow with minimal impediment. The district has allowed the ducts to become clogged with years of silt, she said. Blowing the silt out would go a long way to reaching the water quality level the district wants, she said.
District President John Hoscheit said any perception that staff hasn't given Fabyan its fair share of attention just isn't true.
"It always seems that when there's a project at Fabyan we tend to accelerate those projects because of the high usage we get at that preserve," Hoscheit said. "So the comment about we've neglected the bridge is kind of like how we supposedly neglected the Fabyan Woods. Since I've been on this board we've probably put more money into this preserve than any other."
The full forest preserve commission has yet to approve any intent to demolish the bridge. Before that, Larson said they'll face the challenge of an official review by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency because of the age of the structure.