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Is this really a bridge to nowhere?

By Staff | Sep 29, 2013

Some are calling it the bridge to nowhere, but to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

For nearly six years, the bridge located on South Walnut Lake has needed to be replaced.

And, Stein Innvaer, assistant area wildlife manager for the DNR, has been trying to make that happen.

“That bridge is our only connection to the east side of the Wildlife Management Area,” Innvaer says. “And we’ve just been watching it deteriorate.”

A?farmer in Brush Creek Township, where the WMA is located, would farm the land on the east side of the management area.

In order for that individual to farm the land, he needed to utilize the bridge.

“In return for utilizing that area of the WMA he would leave food for the wildlife,” Innvaer says.

However, the bridge couldn’t handle having the farm equipment traveling over it.

The bridge seemed unsafe so the Faribault County Highway department came out to check the structure.

“There was enough concern to spur us into action, to find a way to replace that bridge,” Innvaer explains.

But, that led to more questions than answers for the local DNR. Was it a project for the DNR to handle??Or was it to be left up to the State or County?

“We asked ourselves, ‘how do we do this or should we even do this?'” Innvaer says. “As owners we felt a strong need to continue the access in order to preserve that area.”

The most important question they faced was how they were going to fund the project which would cost more than $400,000.

Researching their options, they found their unique project didn’t qualify for a lot of funding programs.

“And, Brush Creek didn’t have an interest in funding it, which was completely understandable given the amount,” he adds.

They had to continue looking for help.

“That’s when we found the bridge project qualified for funding under the State Park Road Account,” Innvaer says.

That account is used to fund orphan projects similar to the bridge replacement at South Walnut Lake, that don’t fit under other categories.

“A very small percentage of the gas tax goes into that account,” he explains.

Innvaer says they realize $400,000 seems like a lot of money.

“There’s no way around it,” he says. “There are specific requirements we have to meet in order to qualify for the funds from that program.”

Upon further inspection of the area, the DNR found that the water-control structure located near the bridge needs to be replaced, as well.

“The design of the bridge is now influenced by the design for that control structure,” Innvaer adds.

Having that thrown into the mix has added to the cost, which is part of the reason it seems so expensive.

“But, we are wildlife managers; we manage wildlife, we don’t build bridges,” he says.

So, Innvaer has enlisted the help of Faribault County which has raised some eyebrows from people in the community.

Faribault County engineer John McDonald explains the county’s involvement, and clarifies they’re not involved financially but are serving as the fiscal agent.

“This project is fully funded through the DNR,” McDonald says. “The county will pay the contractor for the project and turn around and bill the DNR.”

McDonald, who has been aiding Innvaer throughout the course of the project, agrees that the bridge needs to be replaced.

“That is the only access they have to the WMA,”?he says.

A trip out to the location now would make it seem as if the bridge does lead to nowhere. However, that wasn’t always the case.

Before the bridge was closed a local man farmed the land on the other side. Since then it has become overgrown.

“That land has become fallow from not being planted,” Innvaer says.

However, the DNR sees this as an opportunity and plan to convert the land into natural habitat for ducks and pheasants.

The wildlife isn’t the only thing he has in mind when considering the end result of this project, either.

Those that visit the WMA at Walnut Lake have probably noticed the narrow road that leads to a public boat access.

“The public used to use the other side of that bridge to turn around and park their boat trailers,” he explains.

However, that hasn’t been an option for the past few years. There also hasn’t been adequate parking for others who come out to the WMA to simply enjoy nature.

“This road gets a whole lot more traffic than a lot of other township roads,” Innvaer says. “Once this bridge is complete we hope to beef up the parking lot and make it a lot more accessible.”

The six-year-long project is getting closer to the construction phase and Faribault County has been assisting by taking bids from contractors.

But, that is easier said than done. All the bids received have been coming back over the estimated amount.

“It’s a timing issue,” Innvaer says.

He explains how this time of year there are plenty of jobs for contractors which don’t include working in a confined space such as the area near the bridge at South Walnut Lake.

“Bids have been coming back so far over, we have to reject them, reassess and put it out for bids again,” Innvaer adds.

However, he feels they are nearing a reasonable bid and hope to accept one soon.

Innvaer says he hopes, people can see this isn’t just a bridge to nowhere.

“It would amaze people how many folks like to just drive down this road to enjoy the scenery,” he says. “Sunday drives are not just a thing of the past.”

After all the work contributed by the county and DNR, they are more than ready to get the bridge replaced and get back to taking care of the WMA which hasn’t been reached in nearly six years.

“People will be impressed with the result,” Innvaer says.