Yesterday thousands of bike riders stopped traffic across the Twin Cities as part of the annual Saint Paul Classic Bike Tour.
I was one of them.
I rode 30 miles around St. Paul, following Mississippi River Boulevard along the bluffs, down Shepherd Road to downtown and the waterfront, then back up the bluffs to Indian Mounds Park, then along parkways to Phalen Park and Como Park, then past the state fairgrounds, across University and the light rail construction and over 94 to get back to the start at St. Thomas. Yeah, it was as tiring as it sounds.
Earlier this year I started riding my bike more to get some needed exercise and even more needed stress relief. I decided early on that I wanted to do the Saint Paul Classic. I’ve always thought that’d be a cool event to take part in, but I was never active enough on my bike to seriously consider it. I should have. The short route is a very do-able 15 miles.
While I’ve probably only biked more than 15 miles once this year, I decided to go for the 30 mile route. I tend to overdo things like that, but I also wanted the bragging rights. Amazingly, I can still walk today.
While they did close off streets and intersections for the ride, I’d guess that 95% of the route was along streets with marked bike lanes or on streets next to paved bike paths. St. Paul is pretty bike friendly.
We also passed a lot of public art, which was fun for me.
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.