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Swinging bridge reopens at Jay Cooke State Park

The swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park reopened to the public Friday, Nov. 1, as visitors lined-up to be among the first to cross the historic structure. The reconstructed bridge includes accessibility improvements and design features that recreate some of the work performed by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers in 1934.

“Reopening the swinging bridge will restore visitor access to the trail system on the south side of the park just in time for the cross-country ski season,” said Park Manager Gary Hoeft. “The flood was challenging, but it was an opportunity to restore this beautiful bridge and make it better than ever. We still have some work to do in some areas of the park, but reopening the bridge signals a major step forward in the park’s recovery after the flood.”

The repairs cost about $1.1 million with money coming from the 2012 bonding bill and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The reconstruction included design improvements that make the 219-foot bridge ADA-compliant and more accessible to an aging population. The approach ramp at the south end of the bridge includes a wheelchair platform and turnaround location. Large, cedar log handrails were incorporated on the approach ramps to closely match historical photos, and skilled stonemasons worked to repair and restore the look of the support pillars while meeting modern engineering requirements.

First constructed of logs and rope in 1924 by the U.S. Forest Service, the swinging bridge was rebuilt by CCC workers in 1934 to include the familiar stone pillars seen today. When the bridge decking was destroyed by a flood in 1950, the pillars were raised to increase the height of the deck above the St. Louis River. The historic flood in June 2012 destroyed the bridge once again as an estimated 55,000 cubic feet of water per second rushed downstream. A tangled pile of trees and limbs, called the “bird nest,” is perched on the rocky ledge upstream from the bridge and serves as a marker of the floodwaters high mark.

Visitors to Jay Cooke State Park may notice some other changes. The River Inn interpretive building underwent a renovation in the months leading up to the flood, but because of limited access to the park, the upgrade went largely unnoticed. Improvements to the rustic log-and-stone building, constructed by CCC workers between 1939 and 1942, included energy and accessibility upgrades, expanded exhibits and interpretive space. The building improvements were made possible with $462,500 from the Parks and Trails Fund, which received 14.25 percent of the Legacy Amendment sales tax revenue.

Jay Cooke State Park is open year-round for camping and recreation, and offers a full complement of naturalist activities.  For more information, visit www.mndnr.gov/jaycooke or contact DNR Information Center at info.dnr@state.mn.us or 651-296-6157 (888-646-6367 toll free) between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
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