Earlier this month, I attended the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association (OPRA) conference and trade show. Despite the 10 inches of snow that fell in Sandusky, Ohio, OPRA2015 was a success, with many new exhibitors and attendees. I'm going to discuss a few things I learned and observed at this year's conference.
First of all, like I said, OPRA2015 had a huge turnout! This is just one indicator of the growing popularity of trails - more and more people want to get out and walk/run/hike. To make this happen, park districts are looking at new and innovative materials and bridge products that can easily fit within repurposed abandoned structures along new trails and/or provide safe access over streams, highways or railroads.
Secondly, most districts operate on tight budgets. Many attendees mentioned that balancing costs with environmentally-friendly materials is a big concern. For example, our fiberglass trail bridge and bridge deck booth generated interest because they're maintenance-free. The material resists corrosion when exposed to water, salt or chemicals. The composite product is prefabricated, a feature that attracted a lot of attention from park representatives who were looking for simple and quick installation options. Despite this, I noticed that park personnel tend to perceive these new technologies come with a higher price tag. Many of the people I spoke with were surprised to find that fiberglass bridges are actually cost competitive with traditional steel/concrete bridges. Talks were dominated by a desire for long-term benefits without a high upfront cost.
Third, I noted size trends, including a huge number of requests for 14-foot wide bridges. Did you know that Ohio DOT regulations require bridges to be wider than traditional 10-foot ground trails? The regulation adds two feet to each side of a trail, making it easier for bridges to accommodate both bicyclists and people who want to stop on the bridge to enjoy the scenery. Length-wise, bridges of 20 feet to 40 feet were popular. On a different note, I enjoyed speaking with one manager whose park includes a floating bridge. By the way, fiberglass composite’s corrosion resistance and natural buoyancy made the product an intriguing option for him. It is an interesting design challenge that hopefully I will get to learn more about - it's certainly a unique project that does not come along every day.
For the two days of the show, I appreciated the interest and questions about using a newer material technology to help improve park use. The park personnel are passionate about their work and what they contribute to their communities.