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Effort advances to reinstall Split Rock River bridge

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Hikers attempt to cross the Split Rock River on the Superior Hiking Trail. The Superior Hiking Trail Association has raised $84,000 to build a new bridge across that location. (Photo courtesy Superior Hiking Trail Association) 2 / 2

A popular North Shore hiking trail is one step closer to having a bridge again.

The Superior Hiking Trail Association announced in February it surpassed its fundraising goal of $75,000 and had raised nearly $84,000 to replace the Split Rock River Bridge, which has been out since 2015.

Once complete, the bridge will relink the two sides of the Split Rock River Loop, a 4.5-mile loop beginning at Highway 61 and following each side of the Split Rock River. The two sides of the trail connect where the bridge once stood.

The SHT, a 300-plus mile hiking trail stretching from the Minnesota-Wisconsin border near Jay Cooke State Park to the Canadian border by way of the North Shore, uses the Split Rock River Loop as part of its trail.

The bridge could be completed by fall 2019, according to Denny Caneff, executive director of the Superior Hiking Trail Association.

"We're gonna get it up and do it right this time," Caneff said.

It's been a difficult location for past bridges.

According to Caneff, ice or high water have knocked down the first two bridges, which were quite primitive. Then, the third bridge was moved higher upstream to avoid ice and water damage, but that one was destroyed, too. The fourth bridge lasted longer, but crews removed it in 2015 when the structure began to look unsafe.

Since then, hikers have had to wade across the Split Rock River, take a detour along the Gitchi-Gami State Trail or turn around.

"They can't complete that loop," Caneff said. "That's what's unfortunate about the spot we're in."

By their September board meeting, the SHTA expects to have proposals from three engineering firms. They'll select one proposal, then begin ordering parts. To avoid future damage from the river, the design will likely use steel and fiberglass construction.

But the bridge's location also presents construction challenges — it's 2.5-mile walk from Highway 61 and there's no road access.

That's where they'll have to get creative. Caneff said everything is being considered — from helicoptering in the largest beams to dragging materials in with ATVs, snowmobiles or even horses.

"Yeah, it's complicated," Caneff said.

While the fundraising goal has been surpassed, Caneff said the SHTA will likely raise a bit more cash for the project. Caneff hopes the project's total cost remains under $100,000.

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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