Jay Cooke State Park's Swinging Bridge should be back open by fallVisitors to Jay Cooke State Park should be able to walk across the swaying, creaking Swinging Bridge by summer’s end, park officials said Saturday.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Visitors to Jay Cooke State Park should be able to walk across the swaying, creaking Swinging Bridge by summer’s end, park officials said Saturday.
“The bridge should be done by the end of August,” said Gary Hoeft, the park’s manager. “We should get a lot of use this fall yet.”
The historic pedestrian bridge across the St. Louis River was largely destroyed by the severe flooding that affected the Northland last June; the bridge’s support columns remained standing, but the span itself was wrecked.
A contract hasn’t been awarded, Hoeft said, but he anticipates the cost of reopening the bridge will be somewhat less than the original estimate of $1.6 million. It’s expensive, he said, because it’s a historic landmark — the original was built in the 1930s — and the rebuilding process has to meet the approval of the State Historic Preservation Office.
The state is paying for the project through bonding money but will be reimbursed from federal disaster aid, said Cheri Zeppelin, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman.
The rebuilt bridge actually will be more historically accurate than the bridge that washed away, Hoeft said; that span had been altered over the years. The metal handrail and chain-link fencing along the ramp on the park headquarters side will be replaced by log rails and wooden fence posts.
“That takes it back to what it was in 1934,” he said.
The stone columns that survived last summer’s flood will continue to anchor the bridge, Hoeft said.
The washout during the June 19-20 flooding was the second time the bridge was wiped out by high water on the St. Louis River. After the first time, the bridge was raised by about 2 feet, Zeppelin said.
It won’t be raised any higher this time, Hoeft said, noting that last year’s disaster was a 500-year flood.
“I don’t think you could raise it high enough to prepare it for any eventuality,” he said.
The St. Louis River separates the park’s headquarters, campground and parking lots from more than half of its trail network, Hoeft said. That includes most of the cross-country ski trails, meaning those trails weren’t available this winter. Other trails also are affected by washed-out bridges. So although the park reopened on Oct. 22, it has been “a lot different from a normal operation,” he said.
Construction workers will be as prevalent in the park as tourists this summer, with the Minnesota Department of Transportation rebuilding a portion of state Highway 210, Minnesota Power restoring the Forbay Lake reservoir/power generating system and contractors repairing trail bridges. In addition to the Swinging Bridge, the Silver Creek Bridge on the ski trail system and the Otter Creek Bridge on the foot trail system will be rebuilt, Hoeft said.
Highway 210, which is open from Carlton to park headquarters, is slated to be reopened to Oldenburg Point — a popular park destination — by the end of the summer. But MnDOT hasn’t decided whether to ever rebuild the road all the way through to state Highway 23 in Duluth’s Fond du Lac neighborhood. State officials plan to seek public input later this year on that decision.
The DNR doesn’t have an official position on that question, Hoeft said. “It’d be a lot different than it’s ever been” if the highway ended in the park, he said.