IGH moves forward with trailhead project


Folks got closer to the river by crossing the bridge at its grand opening June 11, 2011. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

The new Rock Island Swing Bridge in Inver Grove Heights was open for folks to bike, walk and check out on June 11, 2011. The refurbished bridge is at the center of a multi-phase regional parks project; the next phase will include a trailhead with parking, a picnic shelter and restrooms. (Linda E. Anderson/Review)

Parts of the original construction of the Rock Island Swing Bridge from 1894 can be seen contrasting with the newer 2010 renovations -- an interesting combination and a great way of preserving some of the past. Plans for the trailhead include exhibits that explain the rich history of the bridge. (Linda E. Anderson/Review)

Bridge becomes new transport hub, for walkers and bikers

The Inver Grove Heights City Council has approved a project that will make Swing Bridge Park even better.

During its Feb. 24 meeting, the council approved a second phase of the Mississippi River regional trailhead project near Swing Bridge Park. The project aims to provide offstreet parking, public restrooms, a historical information center and picnic facilities. A covered picnic shelter will hold 50-60 people and will be available for rent.

“The comfort station is highly anticipated,” Mayor George Tourville noted.

The first phase of this project occurred in 2012 and included the resurfacing of 66th St., the extension of water and sewer and trail connections.

The swing bridge itself was revamped as a pier and opened to foot traffic in 2011 after the public and the city of Inver Grove Heights struggled to save it from demolition.

Historical site

The Rock Island Swing Bridge was built in 1894 as a double-decker bridge that carried train cars on the upper level and horse and buggies (eventually cars) on the lower deck. In 1982 the JAR Company began operating the bridge as a toll facility for vehicles until 1999 when MnDOT closed the bridge due to structural issues.

In November 2008 a portion of the structure collapsed on the Washington County side; subsequently Washington and Dakota counties began demolishing the swing bridge. After public outcry, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota placed the bridge on its 2009 list of 10 Most Endangered Historic Places.

That spring, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a demolition moratorium that stopped the demolition.

New uses

In 2009 the City of Inver Grove Heights took ownership of the structure. With $1.3 million in federal grant funds, $150,000 from Dakota County, and $100,000 from the Minnesota Historical Society, the city embarked on a phased project to turn the former transportation hub into a recreational pier.

The project suffered another setback on Nov. 4, 2010, when the company hired to convert the existing structure into a recreational pier-accidentally started a fire after hot “slag” made contact with the creosote-covered wood of the original structure. Insurance covered the cost of repairs.

When the pier opened, Rep. Joe Atkins remarked that the pier offered a view of the Mississippi River that couldn’t be compared to any other “between Lake Itasca and New Orleans.”

When completed, the 80-acre park will be open to the public from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily.

Heather Edwards can be reached at southwest@lillienews.com.
 

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