The “soon to be disappearing” Bridges of Camden State Park (MN)

Located in southwestern Minnesota, Lyon County, with its county seat being Marshall, prides itself with its ice cream in Schwann, athletics and academics through Southwest State University and the county’s school districts, its agriculture in the form of corn, soybeans and sugar beets, and lastly its beautiful landscape because of the deep valleys along the Redwood and Cottonwood Rivers. The county once prided itself in vast numbers of historic bridges, many of which consisted of steel truss spans that were relocated for reuse many times. Some of them were even stored at the county highway department awaiting reuse, according to correspondence with the county engineer while pursuing a science project on bridges in the 7th grade at Marshall Junior High School.

But with the recent developments going on, the county is facing a dwindling number of these truss bridges. Already gone are the spans that used to cross the Cottonwood River, including two at Garvin Park. Those featured a 1920 Warren span brought in from Lynd in 1985 and a 1908 Queenpost span brought in from Clifton Township in 1986.  But the spans at Camden State Park may be the next ones to follow.

Featuring five bridges- three steel pony trusses, a low-water crossing and a wooden trestle, with one exception, these spans were built in the 1930s when Camden State Park was developed  as a facility to replace a village that had once existed. What is unique about the steel pony trusses is the fact that they were part of the relocation scheme, built in their place of origin somewhere else before being relocated to the park in the late 1980s to 1990 to replace previous crossings.  Each bridge presents a sense of beauty as they fit perfectly with the scenery, with the hills and trees surrounding them.

Yet word is getting around that Lyon County is planning to turn over responsibility of the road (County Road 25) and the bridges to the owner of the park, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR), in the near future. There, planning is in the works to replace all three pony truss spans with concrete structure with a form liner resembling cut stone. These spans would resemble a Cottonwood River span that opened in 2005 and is located in Springfield, in Brown County.

Already gone is the low-water crossing because of flooding in 1993 (that was replaced with a welded pony truss bridge), losing the three truss bridges would be a blow to the state park because of their historic value they present. They were built using standardized spans introduced in 1914 with the purpose of making the crossings safer for traffic. Each bridge has survived weather extremities, for they were washed out by the floodwaters in 1993, but were reconstructed in their original places, keeping their historic integrity in tact. If the bridges were rebuilt, integrating the trusses in the concrete roadway, as is being practiced with many Minnesota spans, then their structural lifespan will be prolonged for another 60-80 years with little maintenance. Yet should the truss bridges go, they will most likely take the wooden trestle with, which was built in 1931 spanning the railroad track. Whether this plan of action is for the benefit of the state park remains in question. But to better understand which bridges are affected by the latest project, here is a list of bridges and their location for you to visit and convince the parks to save:

Photos taken in September 2010

BNSF Trestle:

Location: Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway at the south entrance to Camden State Park

Bridge Type: Wooden Trestle

Year Built: 1936

Length: 190 feet (36 feet main span)

Status: Open to traffic but not affected by project (for now)

Bridge 5101A

Location:  Redwood River at Camden State Park- first steel truss bridge after entering park.

Bridge Type: Warren pony truss with vertical beams and riveted connections

Year Built: 1931 at undisclosed location, relocated here in 1989

Length: 61.4 feet (main span: 60 feet)

Status: Open to traffic, but scheduled to be replaced.

This bridge is located east of the site where the low-water crossing once stood. It originally consisted of a two-span pony truss bridge located somewhere along the Redwood River northeast of Marshall, yet this half made its way here in 1989, whereas the other half was relocated to Green Valley, where it still serves traffic today. It sustained damage by floods in 1993 but was rehabilitated and reopened to traffic afterwards.

Bridge 5054

Location: Redwood River at Camden State Park. Second crossing after entering the park

Bridge Type: Steel Warren pony truss bridge with vertical beams and riveted connections

Year Built: 1931 by Illinois Steel Company; Moved here in 1990.

Length: 75.1 feet (main span: 73.2 feet)

Status: Open to traffic but scheduled for replacement

This crossing is located at a dangerous corner, where drivers have to make sharp right turns before crossing the truss span. The bridge originally came from a crossing over Plum Creek at US Hwy. 14 west of Walnut Grove. At the time of its replacement and road reconstruction in 1990, it was relocated here where it is still serving traffic today.  This bridge was washed out during the flood of 1993 but was salvaged and placed back into service a year later.

Bridge R0122

Location: Redwood River at north entrance to Camden State Park

Bridge Type: Warren pony truss with vertical beams, extended wind bracing and riveted connections

Year Built: 1915 over the Yellow Medicine River in northern Lyon County. Relocated here in 1986

Length: 50.2 feet (main span: 47.3 feet)

Status: Open to traffic but scheduled for replacement.

This bridge is the oldest of the three to be found at the park. It is also the only bridge that features an exterior wind bracing, which was common in earlier standardized truss spans. 1915 is the date that was designated in the records, but the bridge looks younger than that. The crossing is the first one upon entering the park from the north side. For a long time, it was a dead end crossing for vehicles minus the bikes, for drivers were not allowed to enter the park from the north end. Yet after being wiped out by floods in 1993 and being reerected in its place a year later, the entrance was reopened to all traffic.

Why these bridges are not being considered for relocation to another less used road in the county remains unclear, let alone being considered for relocation, but these bridges represent a classic example of how Lyon County took care of its truss bridges in the 1980s and 90s, seeing the potential for reuse and the historic significance of each of the spans. The new bridges in place, like the Springfield crossing, may fit the landscape of a community, yet in cases like the ones at Camden, they represent an epic fail because of the lack of conformity with the natural surroundings. Therefore it is important that these spans are saved and rehabilitated for reuse to ensure that they continue to serve their purpose for the next 60-80 years.

You can help spread the word. Not only is it important to visit these sites, but it is important to convince the county and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to keep these spans in place because of their importance to the parks. With as many voices as possible, the planning can be altered to benefit the tourists visiting the park and the county that has prided itself in its reuse of historic structures. Your voice can make a difference.

Information and contact details for Camden State Park can be found here.

Contact details for the Lyon County Engineer’s Office in Marshall are found here.

 

 

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