Stillwater to mark lift bridge closure with Aug. 2 events and Aug. 12 polka party

The city of Stillwater will mark the closure of the Stillwater Lift Bridge with two events on Wednesday, Aug. 2 — and it plans to follow up with a polka party on Chestnut Street Saturday, Aug. 12.

A ribbon-cutting for the new St. Croix Crossing bridge is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 2. Immediately following that ceremony, Mayor Ted Kozlowski and city leaders will host a short public ceremony in downtown Stillwater’s Lowell Park to commemorate the lift bridge’s 86 years of service to the city and the region. Federal, state and local officials will be invited.

After the ceremony, city leaders will reconvene in south Lowell Park at 6 p.m. for a public festival being billed as the “Cruisin’ to Closure,” Kozloswki announced July 11. The city and civic leaders are partnering to expand the already-scheduled Cruisin’ on the Croix classic car show to accommodate the large crowds expected to gather downtown for the final closure of the bridge to automobile traffic.

“We don’t know what time MnDOT will throw up the ‘bridge closed’ sign and do the permanent traffic shift, but we’ll be downtown celebrating until they do,” Kozlowski said in a written statement.  “This is a significant moment in the history of our town, and we know people are going to want to get together and be part of it.  It’s going to be one of those events that you’ll tell your grandchildren you attended.”

Kozlowski said the event will mark “the day and time we get our downtown back,” because the closure of the lift bridge to vehicle traffic is expected to significantly reduce congestion downtown.

The city is also planning a bridge closing party and street dance 5-10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12. The city council unanimously approved the event July 11.

“The new bridge doesn’t affect us as much as closing the old bridge,” said Councilmember Mike Polehna, who has been planning the dance. “We thought we should have a community celebration of the closing of the lift bridge. … The highlight of this event would be a polka dance.”

The idea for a dance reflects the opening celebration for the lift bridge in 1931, when a dance was held at the armory in the evening, according to reporting in the Stillwater Gazette at the time.

Polehna also said a polka dance was once a popular part of the Lumberjack Days festival, and he expects the bridge closing party to be a fun community event.

The city council approved the Aug. 12 closure of Chestnut Street from Main Street to the lift bridge for the street dance, as well as the use of adjacent parking lots for food vendors and a beer garden. The band is expected to be Alpensterne.

City staff noted that one complication is that a wedding party has already booked the Lowell Park gazebo Aug. 12, with the wedding ceremony scheduled for 6 p.m., so steps may need to be taken to accommodate the wedding, such as taking a break from the polka music. Staff will contact the wedding party to discuss options.

Although the city is celebrating the closure of the lift bridge, the iconic structure will remain a fixture in Stillwater. The lift bridge will be rehabilitated before serving as the upriver portion of an approximately five-mile pedestrian and bicycle loop trail that will include the new St. Croix Crossing bridge. A dedicated fund set aside in state of Minnesota accounts will provide annual funds for the lift bridge’s continued operation.

“When Governor Floyd B. Olson and the town fathers opened the lift bridge in 1931, they had no idea it would be in service for 86 years,” Kozlowski said. “Over its history, the lift bridge has become more than just another river crossing.  It’s an iconic structure that has been a part of our lives for generations. We’re so excited to see that it will get a second life.”