Kern Bowstring Arch Bridge Available for Reuse: Any Takers?

Photo by James Baughn

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MANKATO, MINNESOTA-  The longest bowstring arch bridge in the United States and second longest in the world is available for reuse. The question is who has some ideas for the structure?  The Minnesota Department of Transportation  is soliciting interest in the purchase and relocation of the Kern Bowstring Arch Bridge, which had spanned the Le Seuer River on Township Rd. 190 south of Mankato between now and August 31st.

The bridge was built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company under the direction of John Mahowald in 1873 and was originally named the Yaeger Bridge, after the farmer George Yaeger. The 189 foot long bowstring arch span served traffic until its closure in 1989. Crews lifted the span off its crumbling limestone piers on 7 February of this year and carefully dismantled the structure; the pieces are in storage and the new owner that acquires it will have a herculean challenge of not only putting it back together again but also restoring it for recreational reuse.

According to information on the MnDoT website, the bridge must be rehabilitated to meet historic standards as stated in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Projects. The restoration project must comply to the guidelines of both MnDOT and the Federal Highway and Safety Administration. Currently, costs for reconstructing and restoring the historic bridge is estimated to be at approximately $1.5 million.  Fortunately, federal funding is available to cover 80% of the costs for the whole project, which means 20% must to brought up by the party owning the bridge.  The bridge has currently been delisted from the National Register, yet it can be re-listed once the structure is reconstructed and reopened for use.

Letters of intent are currently being collected by cities as well as county and state agencies, with cities having 5000 of less inhabitants being required to have a county sponsor. At present two suitors are in the running, both cities and both outside Blue Earth County, where the bridge once stood for almost a century and a half: Fergus Falls in Otter Tail County and North Mankato in Nicollet County. Both plan to have the structure span a body of water and be used as a pedestrian bridge. It is unknown who else is interested in acquiring the structure at present.

If you are interested in acquiring the bridge, you should click onto link that will usher you to MnDOT’s Historic Bridge website. There, information, contact details and applications are available. The Letter of Intent is to be submitted by no later than 31 August. Applications for the bridge must then be filled out and the deadline is 30 September.

We have seen many bowstring arch bridges being reused for various recreational purposes. The Freeport and Eureka Bridges in Winneshiek County, Iowa are now picnic areas in parks.  Springfield in Arkansas and Paper Millin Delaware are now pedestrian crossings. The interest in reusing the Kern Bridge as a crossing for pedestrians and cyclists is strong among those in Minnesota and beyond who wish to see her in action again. The question is where will it go and how will it be reused?

The story of the bridge’s fate is unraveling and we’ll keep you posted……

 

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