May day: Monticello trail reopening set

Monticello officials say the long-awaited reopening of the Saunders-Monticello trail is "very close" and could happen as soon as this weekend. One of the most popular parks in Albemarle County, the trail winds nearly two miles from the foot of Route 53 to the foot of Monticello Mountain. But high winds from Hurricane Isabel turned sections of "boardwalk," an elevated portion through the woods, into splinters.

Monticello spokesman Wayne Mogielnicki says that fair weather could help construction crews open the .8-mile boardwalk this weekend. "It could be as soon as Saturday," Mogielnicki told the Hook at press time.

Gunda Meissner is in no hurry. On an unseasonably warm spring afternoon, we found her catching rays at the trailhead.

"This is the most wonderful trail in Charlottesville," Meissner says while taking advantage of a 70-degree day. Although Meissner says she can't hike all the way up her favorite trail, "I still love it."

As for the tree damage, one oak pounded a foundation farther into the ground and shattered the deck, rails, and supports in one of the most remote parts of the boardwalk.

The $129,000 repair job for this and other damage went to the boardwalk's original builder, Abrahamse & Co. The cost is fully covered by insurance, says Monticello's director of gardens and grounds, Peter Hatch.

"We sure were unlucky," says Hatch. "The largest tree in the whole forest was right next to the highest section of the boardwalk, and it fell diagonally."

Since its opening in 2002 as part of a $7 million project, the trail, Hatch says, has attracted about 35,000 hikers, bikers, and wheelchair-riders along its gentle climb through the meadows and woods.

Monticello's director, Dan Jordan, says while the boardwalk's closure has been "disruptive," he hasn't received a single complaint. Monticello closed the entire length of the trail on May 4 and 5 to regrade and resurface lower portions of the trail.

"As always," says Jordan, "we want to get it right rather than getting it quick."

"I love it. I come here every day," says Gunda Meissner.

Abrahamse & Co. workers peer over the abyss.