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Mission Trails bridge gets closer

To memorialize Max Lenail, who drowned there in January

“The lay of the land is a difficult place to build a bridge. I get it.” - Image by Matthew Suárez
“The lay of the land is a difficult place to build a bridge. I get it.”
On January 29, the San Diego River took the life of Max Lenail. The 21-year-old was at the tail-end of a long run through Mission Trails Regional Park when the weather took a turn for the worse and a hailstorm commenced. At this point, he was heading south and had reached the San Diego River at a common crossing point near the Jackson Drive entrance to the park. The river was already swollen from a storm that had dropped over an inch of rain in nearby Santee the previous night. He spoke with a hiker heading in the opposite direction who had just navigated the crossing successfully. The hiker warned him that the crossing was hazardous but makeable. Lenail took a calculated risk and decided to go for it. His body was recovered from the river the following day.

Since his death, Max’s parents, Laurie Yoler and Ben Lenail, have been on a crusade to get a bridge built at the crossing area where their son was killed. Even though the water at the crossing point can hover at around three-feet deep, there is no bridge there. As a result, most park visitors utilize a concrete encased sewer main located just to the west of the trail to cross. It’s an unauthorized route, but the smooth rocks poking out of the water on top of the concrete give visitors the superior option of getting their shoes soggy as opposed to a lower body super-soak.…and that’s on the days with prime weather conditions.


The fact that the crossing area becomes deadly during and after storms is what is driving Max’s parents' crusade to have an official bridge built in that spot. Their bridge concept took one step closer to becoming a reality on the morning of May 20, when the Mission Trails Regional Park Task Force voted unanimously in favor of moving forward with the bridge at the River Crossing Trail.

District 7 Councilmember Raul Campillo must have been feeling confident when he gave a press conference that came across as a victory lap for the project the day before the Task Force vote. With the peaks of Mission Trails as a backdrop, Campillo, District 1 Councilmember Joe LaCava, Ben Lenail, former San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy, and San Diego Mountain Biking Association Vice-President Kevin Loomis spoke about the project from outside the Mission Trails Visitor Center.

“Today I am formally announcing that I will be making a motion and voting affirmatively to advance the Lenail/Yoler family’s proposal to build a bridge for Max at tomorrow’s meeting of the Mission Trails Regional Park Task Force,” Campillo said. “Of course, we are still very early in this process, but tomorrow upon an affirmative vote with the task force the process will have official government authority to back it up, and the public can be confident that this bridge for Max will be built.”

“People lamented the lack of the bridge at that crossing and the tremendous risk to public safety,” said Lenail when it was his turn to speak. “That’s where we did a pivot. We flipped from terrible, inward-looking grief, to trying to trigger positive change.”

He continued, “We started raising funds with the San Diego Foundation, and we are delighted to announce that we’ve already raised close to $700,000 towards the completion of the project.”

Lenail then spoke about hiring KPFF Consulting Engineers, who have drawn up designs for an 80-100 ft bridge. He added that the bridge will have a lifespan of 75-100 years.

“Laurie and I are incredibly excited by the fact that there may be people into the 22nd century walking on the Max Lenail Bridge to enjoy the park safely,” he said. “And maybe they will say ‘Who was Max Lenail? What was his story? Who was he?’ So, it’s a way to really preserve his memory and his spirit for perhaps the next 100 years.”

Dick Murphy reminded those in attendance that before he served as Mayor of San Diego, he held the same District 7 seat that Campillo currently holds. He added that the only office he was representing on this day was his position as vice chair of the Mission Trails Regional Park’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee.

“The [committee] unanimously endorsed the Bridge For Max at the San Diego River Crossing and are prepared to do whatever is necessary to make that happen,” Murphy said. “So, we are encouraged today by Councilmember Campillo’s announcement. We’re elated for a couple of reasons. First, it means that the chances of the bridge getting built are really very good. The masterplan for Mission Trails Park, which was just updated a couple years ago, calls for a pedestrian/bicycle bridge at the San Diego River crossing. However, we are realistic enough to know that there may not be adequate funds for the city to actually build it. But thanks to the generosity of Max’s family, his friends and now the leadership of Councilmember Campillo, we believe that that bridge can really happen.”

Campillo returned to field questions at the end of the press conference. When asked about a firm date for completion of the bridge he replied that was “a very difficult question to know the answer to,” but predicted it would be completed in “anywhere between three to six years.” When queried about cost, he said it’s unknown, but estimated that the project would be “anywhere between three and five million dollars.”

The final question of the day: what took this so long?

“I think as former mayor Dick Murphy said, San Diego for years has had a structural budget deficit, and infrastructure plans are difficult to get funded,” Campillo explained.
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“The lay of the land is a difficult place to build a bridge. I get it.” - Image by Matthew Suárez
“The lay of the land is a difficult place to build a bridge. I get it.”
On January 29, the San Diego River took the life of Max Lenail. The 21-year-old was at the tail-end of a long run through Mission Trails Regional Park when the weather took a turn for the worse and a hailstorm commenced. At this point, he was heading south and had reached the San Diego River at a common crossing point near the Jackson Drive entrance to the park. The river was already swollen from a storm that had dropped over an inch of rain in nearby Santee the previous night. He spoke with a hiker heading in the opposite direction who had just navigated the crossing successfully. The hiker warned him that the crossing was hazardous but makeable. Lenail took a calculated risk and decided to go for it. His body was recovered from the river the following day.

Since his death, Max’s parents, Laurie Yoler and Ben Lenail, have been on a crusade to get a bridge built at the crossing area where their son was killed. Even though the water at the crossing point can hover at around three-feet deep, there is no bridge there. As a result, most park visitors utilize a concrete encased sewer main located just to the west of the trail to cross. It’s an unauthorized route, but the smooth rocks poking out of the water on top of the concrete give visitors the superior option of getting their shoes soggy as opposed to a lower body super-soak.…and that’s on the days with prime weather conditions.


The fact that the crossing area becomes deadly during and after storms is what is driving Max’s parents' crusade to have an official bridge built in that spot. Their bridge concept took one step closer to becoming a reality on the morning of May 20, when the Mission Trails Regional Park Task Force voted unanimously in favor of moving forward with the bridge at the River Crossing Trail.

District 7 Councilmember Raul Campillo must have been feeling confident when he gave a press conference that came across as a victory lap for the project the day before the Task Force vote. With the peaks of Mission Trails as a backdrop, Campillo, District 1 Councilmember Joe LaCava, Ben Lenail, former San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy, and San Diego Mountain Biking Association Vice-President Kevin Loomis spoke about the project from outside the Mission Trails Visitor Center.

“Today I am formally announcing that I will be making a motion and voting affirmatively to advance the Lenail/Yoler family’s proposal to build a bridge for Max at tomorrow’s meeting of the Mission Trails Regional Park Task Force,” Campillo said. “Of course, we are still very early in this process, but tomorrow upon an affirmative vote with the task force the process will have official government authority to back it up, and the public can be confident that this bridge for Max will be built.”

“People lamented the lack of the bridge at that crossing and the tremendous risk to public safety,” said Lenail when it was his turn to speak. “That’s where we did a pivot. We flipped from terrible, inward-looking grief, to trying to trigger positive change.”

He continued, “We started raising funds with the San Diego Foundation, and we are delighted to announce that we’ve already raised close to $700,000 towards the completion of the project.”

Lenail then spoke about hiring KPFF Consulting Engineers, who have drawn up designs for an 80-100 ft bridge. He added that the bridge will have a lifespan of 75-100 years.

“Laurie and I are incredibly excited by the fact that there may be people into the 22nd century walking on the Max Lenail Bridge to enjoy the park safely,” he said. “And maybe they will say ‘Who was Max Lenail? What was his story? Who was he?’ So, it’s a way to really preserve his memory and his spirit for perhaps the next 100 years.”

Dick Murphy reminded those in attendance that before he served as Mayor of San Diego, he held the same District 7 seat that Campillo currently holds. He added that the only office he was representing on this day was his position as vice chair of the Mission Trails Regional Park’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee.

“The [committee] unanimously endorsed the Bridge For Max at the San Diego River Crossing and are prepared to do whatever is necessary to make that happen,” Murphy said. “So, we are encouraged today by Councilmember Campillo’s announcement. We’re elated for a couple of reasons. First, it means that the chances of the bridge getting built are really very good. The masterplan for Mission Trails Park, which was just updated a couple years ago, calls for a pedestrian/bicycle bridge at the San Diego River crossing. However, we are realistic enough to know that there may not be adequate funds for the city to actually build it. But thanks to the generosity of Max’s family, his friends and now the leadership of Councilmember Campillo, we believe that that bridge can really happen.”

Campillo returned to field questions at the end of the press conference. When asked about a firm date for completion of the bridge he replied that was “a very difficult question to know the answer to,” but predicted it would be completed in “anywhere between three to six years.” When queried about cost, he said it’s unknown, but estimated that the project would be “anywhere between three and five million dollars.”

The final question of the day: what took this so long?

“I think as former mayor Dick Murphy said, San Diego for years has had a structural budget deficit, and infrastructure plans are difficult to get funded,” Campillo explained.
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