‘Crown jewel’ trail gets new gem

State, local officials join residents at Gateway trail bridge ceremony

By ERIK SANDIN – Stillwater Gazette

STILLWATER TOWNSHIP – The Gateway State Trail, a paved ribbon weaving nearly 18 miles from St. Paul to a Pine Point Regional Park in north of Stillwater, is considered the "crown jewel" of the state’s trail system.

On Monday, state and local officials joined residents to celebrate the addition of a historic gem to that jewel.

Blue skies, sunshine and mild temperatures greeted the crowd gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the historic Gateway Trail bridge over Manning Avenue. The wrought iron span replaces a dangerous, at-grade trail crossing at Manning Avenue and Manning Court.

If the historic bridge is considered a gem on the trail, it was a tough one to put in place, according to one of the men who disassembled and reassembled the bridge before it was lifted in place.

"It probably took about three weeks," said Ben Thorson about the reassembly work. Thorson attended the ribbon cutting with his 8-year-old son, Gavin.

Moments before the ceremony, Ben Thorson pointed to a grass field across Manning Avenue and told his son that was where dad and his co-workers put the wrought iron bridge back together.

"We took it down. That was quite a process," Ben Thorson said. "It was a lot of fun to put it together."

The historic, 100-year-old bridge enjoys a third life crossing Manning Avenue. The span was first constructed for use by horse-drawn buggies to cross a Sauk Center dam, according to Kristen Zschemler, state Department of Transportation historian.

"At that time, steel wasn’t used to build (bridges)," she said. "This is one of the few wrought iron bridges in existence in the country."

Zschemler said the bridge was later moved to Minnesota Highway 65 in Koochiching County in northern Minnesota. There logging trucks and other vehicles had to negotiate its 18-foot width. The aging bridge was eventually replaced on Minnesota 65, leaving MnDOT to figure out what to do with the structure.

"We asked, ‘What is the best future for this bridge?’ " Zschemler said. "There was a need for a bridge down here."

Nancy Daubenberger, MnDOT’s state bridge engineer, said moving the wrought iron bridge to the Gateway Trail preserves one of Minnesota’s two-dozen historic bridges.

"It is a very important program because we preserve our engineering heritage," she said. "As a runner who uses the Gateway trail, I’m thrilled to have this bridge and grade separation."

Dave Schad, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources, said moving the bridge to the Gateway trail was justified given the use the trail gets during a year.

"Without a doubt, one of the crown jewels of our (state) trail system is the Gateway trail," he said. "It’s amazing the amount of use this trail gets. This is really a great amenity for the east side. It was mentioned earlier that this was a dangerous spot in the trail. This is really a neat addition to the trail."

As Ben Thorson and his son prepared to walk cross the Gateway trail bridge, the elder Thorson recalled the long hours of work needed to roll the rebuilt bridge into position, lift it and set on abutments on either side of Manning Avenue.

"It was a long day, but it went good," he said.

The people at Monday’s ceremony would certainly agree.