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Approximately 23-miles of the High Trestle Trail were completed in the Fall of 2008. The last remaining segments include the Des Moines River Bridge and the trail segments that lead up to each end of the bridge were completed in April 2011. Grand Opening Celebration was held April 30, 2011.
By Lisa Hein, Program and Planning Director, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (June 2011)
The views of the Des Moines River Valley from the bridge are inspirational
Ever since the grand opening of the High Trestle Trail on April 30, 2011 there has been a steady stream of people venturing out to enjoy the scenery. There are kids on tricycles, elderly couples out for a stroll, bicycle enthusiasts, bicycle amateurs, high school joggers, people in wheelchairs, travelers from 3 miles and travelers from 350 miles— all with smiles on their faces as they cross over the ½ mile long, 13-story high Bridge with views reaching 5 miles in both directions. Their trip is accentuated with artistic enhancements that evoke the coal mining history of the region. Traversing the river is now easy; but for the last five years it was a dream.
When this 25-mile trail project was first conceived, the High Trestle Trail Bridge was seen as the biggest hurdle. “Do you think that bridge will ever get built?” asked a skeptic.
In 2003 the Union Pacific Railroad proposed the abandonment of a 25-mile corridor in central Iowa and was willing to negotiate a bargain sale to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF, a non-profit organization). After years of being involved in numerous rails-to-trails in the state since the 1980s, INHF was exited to be a partner in this potential new project. The corridor spanned nine jurisdictions (four counties and five towns), was a connecting link between two regional trail loops and was located 25 minutes north of the largest metro area in the state.
The starting point for the bridge: twenty-two 130-f00t tall concrete pillars
The 2005 purchase from the railroad included only parts of a bridge. We were provided twenty-two, 130ft tall concrete pillars marching solo across the river valley. Dramatic by themselves, they eventually became known as Iowa’s Stonehenge.
The first step was to recruit a Steering Committee with representatives from each the nine public entities. The estimates for both the trail and bridge construction reached over $12 million. We had a strong coalition of community partners all willing to pursue grant dollars either collectively or individually, even though some had greater capacity than others. One of the five towns, Woodward, was separated from the others by the bridge (or lack thereof). Its closest neighbor, Madrid, on the other side was a historic (and contemporary) rival. They were now working together to build the trail and bridge. The project started small with the construction of 1000ft of trail in Woodward.
Support for the project expanded to our elected officials who secured about $5.5 million in the Federal Transportation Bill. This congressionally directed appropriation, combined with the $3.2 million in donated land value from Union Pacific Railroad got us to the point where we had enough funding to either build trail or build the bridge, but not both.
Constructing the bridge would have to wait. The Steering Committee voted to build as much trail as possible to cultivate funding and support for building the bridge. By fall of 2008 most of the trail was constructed except for the 2.5 miles leading up to either end of the bridge. Even though each town had their part of the trail, they stayed committed to the effort of building the $3 million bridge.
Completing the steel "cribs" that frame the bridge
With inspiration from other national projects, the Steering Committee expanded the project further to include artistic enhancements. An Iowa artist, David B. Dahlquist, created a vision that weaved in the local coal mining history and regional geology. Steel “cribs” reminiscent of a coal mine shaft framed the bridge and four monolithic towers of “coal and limestone” formed a gateway. Lighting of the towers, cribs and piers became part of the plan as well.
The artist’s plans and drawings helped create a whole new dimension to this project, one that really expanded our fundraising capacity by attracting more than just trail enthusiasts. The artistic renderings for the bridge provided a much stronger visual image of what the project could become, and as a final fundraising push, the Steering Committee launched another campaign in August 2008. It took longer to reach our fundraising goal than anticipated because the economy was officially in a recession. But by Spring 2009 contractors were eager for projects and bids came in within budget.
Two years later we realized we’d hit a home run. The Grand Opening of the trail hosted over 2,500 people, some who traveled across the country.
Currently, this bridge is more talked about than any other trail project in Iowa. The views of the Des Moines River Valley from the bridge are inspirational. The artistic enhancements give the bridge and the river valley a context and scale, and the river valley provides a beautiful setting for the bridge. Together, it’s a magical experience.
The communities are now entering a new phase of collaboration to face the challenges of consistent trail management and maintenance. Stay tuned.
For more information:
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation Address:
505 5th Avenue, Ste 444
Des Moines, Iowa 50309