Yesterday I went for a 20-mile bike ride. I think that’s a little too much distraction. My goal was to make it down to the new Rock Island Swing Bridge in Inver Grove Heights that’s been converted to a pier. The ride down was great. The ride back? Not so much.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the trail I cataloged for a National Park Service trail guide back in 2000 has been extended almost all the way to the Rock Island Swing Bridge. There are plans for more amenities at the bridge, including a 55-acre park that should make it even more of an attraction.
So what is it? It’s a 670-foot pier that extends halfway out into the Mississippi River. Originally built in 1894, the double-decker bridge carried trains and vehicles across the river. Trains went on top and vehicles on the bottom. Supposedly John Dillinger used the bridge as an escape route when evading the FBI. It was closed to trains in 1980 and traffic in 1999.
In 2001 the Coast Guard ordered its removal as a potential disruption to river traffic. A section of the eastern half of the bridge collapsed in 2008 and demolition was imminent. In 2009, a month before the scheduled removal of the western half of the bridge, the governor and legislature offered a reprieve, likely thanks to a bridge tour the National Park Service hosted in 2008 to gauge public interest. Nearly 700 people showed up and waited in long lines all day to get a chance to walk on the old bridge.
The bridge (at least the western half) was finally saved thanks to a federal grant, state aid disaster funds, county and city funds, the Minnesota Historical Society and a local fund drive, totaling $2.3 million. Construction was delayed by flooding and then a fire, but last week the pier opened to the public.
So is it worth it? That’s the question another Rock Island Swing Bridge visitor posed when I was there. I looked around for my answer. This is it. Where else can you find these views of the Mississippi River? I’m not aware of any other pier like it in the Twin Cities area, and maybe not on the rest of the Mississippi. It gives Inver Grove Heights public access to the river (most river front property is either private clubs or industrial land) and a major destination.