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San Diego councilmember pledges support for 'Bridge for Max' at Mission Trails

Max Lenail.png
Posted at 3:19 PM, May 19, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego Councilmember Raul Campillo announced his support Wednesday for a bridge in Mission Trails Regional Park to honor a 21-year-old who drowned at a trail crossing this year.

Campillo, who is chair of the Mission Trails Regional Park Task Force, held a press conference to announce his support and call for the construction of the pedestrian and bicycle bridge in honor of Max Lenail.

Last January, Lenail was running in the park when he came to San Diego River trail crossing swollen by rain. His parents say they believe he tried to cross the river but likely slipped and drowned.

Ben Lenail told ABC 10News before Wednesday's event that he visited the site where his son died. Lenail, who is from the Bay area, said it was his first time there since the accident.

"It looked so peaceful, so tranquil, and beautiful," Lenail said. "Yet it is where my son died. I was really shaken and deeply moved. It was sort of a pilgrimage to where he looked at the sky for the last time."

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Campillo said he intends to vote for the bridge proposal at Thursday's Task Force meeting.

"I was honored to stand alongside the Lenail family, Councilmember LaCava, bicycle advocates, and former Mayor Dick Murphy of the Mission Trails Regional Park Citizens Advisory Committee today in announcing my support and to advocate for this important project. I will vote to advance this proposal at tomorrow’s Task Force meeting to honor the memory of a young man, Max Lenail, who was loved by so many and who left us far too soon," a statement by Campillo read. "Our park is one of the jewels of our city, and after an extensive review of the family’s proposal, I believe that the Bridge for Max is not only a step in the right direction but a necessity towards making our park better, safer, and more accessible year-round."

Kevin Loomis, vice president of the San Diego Mountain Biking Association, said the project is long overdue. "In times when things are dark, that's an opportunity for us to shine a light on something. And that's what we're here for today is to shine a light on something that needed to get fixed for a long time," Loomis said.

Team 10 learned a bridge had been discussed for at least a decade. According to minutes from the Citizen’s Advisory Committee, a bridge was asked to be given “a higher priority” in 2010. When asked why the bridge never came to fruition back then, Campillo said funding was a major issue.

"As former mayor Dick Murphy said, San Diego for years has had a structural budget deficit and infrastructure plans are difficult to get funded. There's many, many priorities across the city. It's really a matter of the resources that we've had," Campillo said.

Max's parents have been helping with resources. Ben Lenail and Laurie Yoler, have been fundraising for the Bridge for Max for weeks now. Last March, they presented plans to the task force. The developer the couple hired came up with three proposals that include a metal bridge and two different types of suspension bridges. Ben Lenail described one, “as a suspension bridge, that’s environmentally friendly, and made of wood." He added that it's the least expensive of the three.

Ben Lenail said Wednesday they have raised roughly $700,000 through the San Diego Foundation. Campillo confirmed funding for the project is through a private-public partnership.

Map of Mission Trails Regional Park:

It's unclear if the plan's submitted or an entirely different proposal will be chosen in the end.

"We are grateful to Councilmember Campillo for championing the Max Lenail Memorial Bridge effort, which will result in a safer and better park experience for all. Throughout this process, our family has been greatly comforted by the incredible outpour of community support received and we remain focused on fundraising and working collaboratively with the City of San Diego and park stakeholders to see this effort through," a statement by Lenail's parents read.

Campillo said a bridge could cost up to $5 million. Environmental mitigation could add an extra unknown cost. It will take several years for the bridge to be ready, but Campillo credits the Lenail family for helping to expedite the project through their help with research and funding.