“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to tell us about life in the places they represent, from high-profile events to the fun facts only the locals know.
The trains that linked Chicago and Omaha are gone now, but the 13-story High Trestle Bridge they traveled still spans the Des Moines River in the vast green farm country of central Iowa. In its new incarnation as the crown jewel of an ambitious rails-to-trail project, the award-winning bridge has become an economic engine and a source of local pride.
Located about 30 miles northwest of Des Moines, the half-mile span anchors the 25-mile High Trestle Trail, which meanders through four counties and five towns—including Slater and Madrid, part of Republican Representative Robert Bacon’s District 48.
“The trail has had a direct impact on economic development and generates several million dollars of taxable revenue in these two towns in my district,” he says.
Union Pacific Railroad Co., whose trains once ran across the bridge, sold it to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation in 2005 but took the decking in the deal. That left behind 22 massive concrete piers that became affectionately known as “Iowa’s Stonehenge.” Six years and more than $3 million later, the bridge opened with what has become one of the nation’s most heralded rail-trail art installations, “From Here to There.” Designed by local RDG Dahlquist Art Studios, the repurposed bridge glows at night from hundreds of blue LED lights lining 43 steel ribs that recall mineshaft supports, a tribute to the region’s rich coal mining history.
We caught up with Bacon to ask about the impact of High Trestle Trail and its iconic bridge on his district.
The High Trestle Bridge has gotten numerous awards and even international attention—it was named one the world’s eight amazing footbridges by “BBC Designed.” What has it meant to your district?
My wife and I live in Slater, which is about the halfway point on the trail, and once the weather warms up in the spring, anything above freezing, hundreds of bicyclists are on the path coming through our cozy little town. Several stops for food and beverages are in Slater, and it’s interesting to visit with the riders while they stop. Many riders have done the Trestle Trail before and enjoy the Iowa scenery, the food stops and the bridge itself. Every week in the summer, I visit with riders that come to Iowa from other states specifically to ride this trail.
There are many businesses that benefit from the trail, as well as several businesses that cater just to the bicyclists. In the town of Madrid—yes, (you don’t) need to go to Spain to visit Madrid—you can purchase or rent bicycles or get a bike fixed. There are also several great places for food and refreshments, bakery goodies and ice cream.
What do you think of the bridge design?
Simply stated, the design is beautiful! The award-winning design is multifaceted. First, there is the architectural and engineering beauty of the bridge itself. The steel cribbings collectively form a “tunnel” to pass through while traversing the bridge. At night, those cribbings are lit with blue lights, and the beauty of the bridge is beyond magnificent. Secondly, there are six platforms from which one can view and enjoy views of the Des Moines River Valley. Also, the bridge was designed to inform people about the landscapes, landmarks, animals, plants and water.
When visitors come to see the bridge and walk the trail, what else should they be sure to do or see in your district?
There are many areas of interest in my district, ranging from ethanol plants to mom-and-pop ice cream shops. Just east of Madrid and a little off the trail is one of Iowa’s award-winning wineries that is well worth the time to visit. There are many parks, state and county, with bike trails, kayaking, fishing, swimming and hiking with great scenery. Our district also has several modern and primitive campgrounds to enjoy. I believe that anyone riding the trail will find it rewarding to visit with local people. One will find us willing to help, answer any questions, point out interesting areas, fun to visit with—and just plain good, down-to-earth, caring people.
Other legislators whose districts include part of the High Trestle trail and bridge: District 10 Senator Jake Chapman (R); District 19 Representative Carter Nordman (R); District 24 Senator Jesse Green (R); District 19 Senator Jack Whitver (R); and District 37 Representative John Landon (R).
Lisa Ryckman is NCSL’s director of editorial content.