Jay Cooke State Park celebrates return of Swinging Bridge (with video)

Jay Cooke State Park got some swing back in its step Friday, as the park's Swinging Bridge reopened to the public for the first time since being severely damaged by flooding in June 2012.

Swinging Bridge
Led by an enthusiastic Mayzlin Cordle, 2, (foreground) and her brother Mavryk, 5, young children are the first people to officially cross the rebuilt Swinging Bridge in Jay Cooke State Park during a ceremony and celebration Friday morning. (Bob King /

Jay Cooke State Park got some swing back in its step Friday, as the park's Swinging Bridge reopened to the public for the first time since being severely damaged by flooding in June 2012.

Several young children led the way across the bridge after the official ribbon-cutting, followed by a steady stream of park visitors -- some who swayed from side to side to feel if the rebuilt suspension bridge still had its swing.

As promised by park staff, it did -- perhaps not quite as much as the old flood-wrecked span, but enough to make crossing the St. Louis River feel like a bit of an adventure.

"The Swinging Bridge really is not about the destination of the other side. It's kind of like life, it's all about the journey," park naturalist Kris Hiller told a crowd of several dozen people gathered for the ribbon-cutting. "Generations of our visitors have been laughing, giggling, shrieking, silently holding their breath as they have made their journeys across the bridge. It has (borne) witness to countless family photographs, to engagements of marriage, to occasional weddings and even to families that are saying goodbye."

On Friday, though, it was all about saying hello -- welcoming the reconstructed bridge and the vital access it provides to an extensive network of trails on the south side of the river.


Among those on hand to try out the new Swinging Bridge were Vickie Brown and Betty Hanson-Lehman of Bemidji, who made the trip to Thomson just for Friday's ceremony. Brown worked at Jay Cooke as a park naturalist from 1977-87.

"This is absolutely marvelous, constructed with so much strength you can just feel it," she said. "I'm so glad they decided to rebuild. It's the heart of the park."

The U.S. Forest Service built the first swinging bridge of logs and rope in 1924. In the mid-1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a swinging bridge that included the stone pillars still in use. That bridge was destroyed in a 1950 flood; it was rebuilt and reopened in 1953. That bridge stood until June 2012, when the river rose an estimated 5 or 6 feet over the bridge's deck at the peak of the flood, officials said.

Rebuilding the 219-foot pedestrian bridge cost $1.1 million.

The new bridge is built from steel, just as the old one was, with wooden decking. Among the changes is the addition of cedar log handrails on the approach ramp -- they were part of the original bridge, but were removed after the 1950 flood.

Stonemasons used jackhammers to remove large concrete caps that had been added after the 1950 flood to the bridge's four main columns. They replaced that concrete with stone quarried from the park, to create a look more faithful to the bridge's original appearance.

LHB did the engineering work for the new span, and PCI was the general contractor. Stretar Masonry of Duluth worked on the bridge's columns.



Also on tap in coming weeks will be the reopening of Minnesota Highway 210 to provide access once again to the park's Oldenburg Point area after the June 2012 flooding caused massive washouts along the roadway.

MnDOT has built a new bridge east of the park's headquarters, where floodwaters tore a 50-foot-deep, 250-foot-wide gap through the road after an earthen embankment gave way on Forbay Lake, part of Minnesota Power's reservoir/power generation system.

Park manager Gary Hoeft said the bridge already is being used by utility vehicles. He said he expects it will be reopened to the public later this month.

Officials continue to weigh the future of Highway 210 between Oldenburg Point and Duluth's Fond du Lac neighborhood. That flood-damaged stretch of highway remains closed.

The Cloquet Pine Journal contributed to this story.

Swinging Bridge
A crowd of people crosses the newly rebuilt Swinging Bridge in Jay Cooke State Park after ceremonies to reopen the structure Friday morning, Nov. 1, 2013. (Bob King /

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