Originally Posted Online: Sept. 01, 2013, 7:49 pm
Last Updated: Sept. 02, 2013, 2:31 pm

Isolated Sylvan Island slipping back to nature

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By Dawn Neuses, dneuses@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Drew Hanson and Zach Blair survey the overgrowth of the cycling trails on Sylvan Island on Sunday, August 25, 2013. Mr. Hanson and Mr. Blair are members of the Friends of Off-Road Cycling group and frequently used the trails before access to the island was limited by the closing of the public bridge.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
A FORC logo is carved into a tree stump on Sylvan Island. The island was frequently used by mountain bikers, hikers and fishermen before the public bridge that connects the island was closed for safety reasons.

MOLINE -- Mother Nature is wasting no time reclaiming Sylvan Island, now that the bridge leading to the popular park and mountain biking site is closed.

Weeds are growing through the crushed rock trail that circles the island.

Pointing to them, Drew Hanson said, "Next year, something like that will be a couple feet high. Eventually the trees will take hold." Mr. Hanson is a member of Friends of Off Road Cycling who has helped maintain the trail system.

The "shoulders" of the trail, usually neatly mowed, are filled with grass 1 to 2 feet high. A flower bed near the kiosk is outlined in thick stone, but is now covered with wild growth and filled with milkweed plants 6 feet tall.

In areas where the sun touches the mountain bike trail, it is covered by vines and weeds. In other areas, branches, fallen trees and driftwood block the trail.

"Nature coming back -- it is pretty -- but it is sad there is no trail out here to ride anymore," said Mr. Hanson.

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Mr. Hanson is afraid groups and mountain bikers from all around the nation may have to wait up to two years for the ancient access bridge to be repaired or replaced. In the meantime, the only way to get to the island is in a boat, as Mr. Hanson and a Dispatch/Argus reporter and photographer did last week.

In addition to the rapidly spreading vegetation, animals and wildlife are more visible throughout the island, from a thick ground hog crossing the path to a large area of tall weeds filled with butterflies.

Though disappointed that access to the island is so limited, Mr. Hanson said nature's reclamation of the island is positive, too. Overgrowth is filling in areas of trail his group. may want to change, anyway. The natural process can make the restoration of former trail area less work for the volunteers, he said.

"You cannot have set expectations when you are dealing with nature. You have to be open to what it gives you," Mr. Hanson said.

Moline Park operations and maintenance manager Rodd Schick isn't concerned either. He said it won't take long for the city to restore the island to a safe and usable state once bridge access is restored.

An engineer's recent report to the park board said the 100-plus year-old bridge should be replaced, at an estimated cost of $1.2 million.There is no funding available in the park department's budget, and Park and recreation director Laura Duran said it will be up to the city council to act. The park department did apply for a state grant to cover 80 percent of the cost, but it could be up to six months before it knows if it is awarded the funds.

Mr. Hanson likes the existing bridge, and said it would be nice if it could be repaired.

"It fits the aesthetics of the island, the ruins out here," he said. "The rivets and grunge on it fits with the ruins on the island. It is neat to have that bridge as the gateway to the trails. It is the icon of the island. When people think of Sylvan Island, they think of the bridge," he said.

"It is what you remember most when you are here," he said.


Sylvan Island facts.

-- Thirty-five acres.

-- Four and a half miles of trails.

-- For nine years the site of Sylvan Island Stampede, a triathlon that was moved this year after the bridge closed.

-- Named a Top 10 urban mountain bike park by Dirt Magazine.

-- Also used by hikers, canoeists, kayakers, fishermen, families and bicyclists,

-- In addition to natural areas, it is dotted with remnants of industrial plants.

-- Remains open to public, but is accessible only by boat.