Jay Cooke ‘bridges the gap’ at lastThe day has finally come — the much-awaited opening of the new “old” Swinging Bridge at Jay Cooke State Park will take place on Friday, beginning with a ceremonial ribbon cutting at 11 a.m.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The day has finally come — the much-awaited opening of the new “old” Swinging Bridge at Jay Cooke State Park will take place on Friday, beginning with a ceremonial ribbon cutting at 11 a.m. At that time, park manager Gary Hoeft will recap what happened the night of the 2012 flood that destroyed the original bridge, and Kris Hiller, park naturalist, will discuss the historic significance of the bridge.
Crews from the Swinging Bridge’s general contractors, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, LHB Engineering and staff project managers made the final inspection on the rebuilt bridge on Wednesday, prior to its planned opening to the public. Hoeft said the inspection is the final phase in the 16-month project, which actually came in under budget at $1.1 million.
The 219-foot pedestrian bridge spans the St. Louis River near the park visitor center, and is the primary access to a network of trails on the south side of the river.
The Swinging Bridge’s four main stone columns survived the flood, and underwent restoration work this year. Everything else on the bridge was replaced during the reconstruction that started last May. The new bridge is built from steel, just as the old one was, with wooden decking. A paved area at the south end of the bridge, across the river from the park, will allow wheelchair users to turn around, Hoeft said.
Hoeft explained that when the Swinging Bridge was first built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934, the handrails of the ramp leading up to the bridge were made of round wooden logs. In 1950, the bridge was destroyed in what has since become the second largest flood on record (behind the 2012 flood). It was recorded at 42,000 cubic feet per second (compared to at 55,000 cubic feet per second in the 2012 flooding). The bridge’s smaller pillars were knocked down, the decking destroyed, and one of the main pillars was reported to have toppled. Subsequent reconstruction included replacement of the log ramp with metal railings and chain link fencing.
The state paid for the project through bonding money but will be reimbursed from federal disaster aid, according to Cheri Zeppelin, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman.
Hoeft said the end result will be welcomed by the many visitors who once utilized the park on a regular basis.
“This is one of the busiest ski parks in the system,” said Hoeft. “This past winter, however, we had fewer than normal skiers because our trail system was basically cut in half after the bridge went out, even though we had good snow and good trail reports.”
Also on tap in coming weeks will be the completion of the Highway 210 Bridge, which will provide access once again to the park’s Oldenburg Point area.
Hoeft said the roadway was paved on Tuesday and the bridge is already useable by utility vehicles. He expects it will be reopened to the public in early November.
Sam Cook of the Duluth News Tribune contributed to this story.