High Bridge Reborn as View-Tastic Bike Trail

Tom Giffey

Once crews put the finishing touches on Eau Claire’s high bridge (in early july or so), it’ll be ready for walkers and bikers to cross.
Once crews put the finishing touches on Eau Claire’s high bridge (in early July or so), it’ll be ready for walkers and bikers to cross.

Looking for somewhere new to bike, run, stroll, or saunter with the family? The High Bridge over the Chippewa River north of downtown Eau Claire is slated to be opened up to pedal-powered and pedestrian traffic as early as July.

If you’ve walked across Phoenix Park’s footbridge or driven across the Madison Street bridge, you’ve undoubtedly seen the High Bridge, a towering iron fixture that’s the last in the succession of bridges that span the river below Xcel Energy’s dam. Soon, that 80-foot tall bridge will be more than part of picturesque views: It will also provide some.

Last summer, the Eau Claire City Council voted unanimously in favor of reimagining the 19th-century railroad bridge which was once traversed by Union Pacific trains but has stood idle for years. When the project is complete, the High Bridge will reopen for cyclists and pedestrians, with eventual trail additions on either side to boot. All this after a $1.15 million bid OK’d by the council –$494,000 of which was covered by a state grant. The rest is to come out of the city’s bridge repair fund.

The project will improve the city’s already robust system of bike trails as well as open a bicycle connection between the northwest side of Eau Claire and downtown. Roughly 900 feet in length, the High Bridge’s completed surface will resemble that of the S-shape bridge adjacent to Banbury Place, and will feature lighting and five overlooks.

“It’s interesting to look at, architecturally unique, and who doesn’t like being on a bridge over water?” City Engineer Dave Solberg. “We’re preserving a piece of history … as well as saving money.”

As of mid-June, Solberg said the High Bridge project is on track to be finished by early July, although he cautioned would-be users to wait for the bridge’s official opening before venturing out over the water. When it opens, the bridge will connect to First Street on the west and Forest Street on the east. By Labor Day, a new trail on an old railroad right-of-way will connect the bridge’s west end to Roosevelt School. Eventually, a trail connecting the bridge’s east end along the river to Phoenix Park is envisioned, but that project is a few years off, Solberg said.

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