Published September 04, 2012, 12:00 AM

Changes will be apparent when Jay Cooke reopens

Visitors to Jay Cooke State Park will see a different park after Highway 210 reopens.

By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune

Visitors to Jay Cooke State Park will see a different park after Highway 210 reopens.

The iconic swing bridge — destroyed by June’s floods — won’t be replaced until next year. Many trails will be closed for the foreseeable future. Drinking water and flush toilets may not be immediately available.

“Visitors will still see a lot of destruction,” said Kristine Hiller, who has been the park’s naturalist since 2000.

“It’s devastating and exciting all at the same time,” she said of the flood and the park’s ongoing recovery. “You see the swinging bridge, and it’s very sad thinking of the thousands of kids that I’ve brought across there. And yet so many people over the years have asked me ‘How do you build a swinging bridge?’ We are going to get to see it this time. So we are going to have some new stories we are going to be able to tell people.”

For decades, when people think of what is now Jay Cooke State Park, they likely thought of the swing bridge strung high above the St. Louis River. The U.S. Forest Service built the first swing bridge of logs and rope in 1924. In the mid-1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps built a swing bridge that included the stone pillars still in use. That bridge was destroyed in a May 1950 flood, when 42,000 cubic feet of water per second ripped downstream. It was — until June — the largest St. Louis River flood on record.

The bridge was rebuilt and reopened in 1953, with the bridge deck 7½ feet higher than the original bridge. That bridge stood until June 21, when it was overcome by a river running at 55,000 cubic feet per second. The river probably rose 5 or 6 feet over the bridge’s deck, Hiller said.

The bridge’s four main columns appear to have escaped damage. But the rest of the bridge — cables, boardwalk, fencing and some smaller supports — need to be replaced.

“We don’t expect it to be replaced until next year sometime,” she said. “We do have a contractor working on the plans already. We are fortunate that somebody was supposed to rehab the bridge anyhow this fall. So he got his job changed. They will possibly be dismantling the bridge this fall.”

The swing bridge was not the only one in the park affected by June’s flooding.

“Otter Creek (bridge) is damaged; Silver Creek (bridge) is missing,” Hiller said.

The missing and damaged bridges, as well as flood debris and erosion, means that only a limited number of the park’s trails will open anytime soon. Those that will be open are near the visitors’ center.

“We’re hoping to be able to groom some” trails for cross-country skiers, Hiller said.

While the swing bridge’s absence will make it more difficult for hikers and skiers to reach trails south of the St. Louis River, park officials hope to reopen some of its southern trails.

“There are locals who know some of the back accesses,” Hiller said. “We can fix them up fairly quickly. But reopening the rest of the trails will be long-term. Some of the trail bridges that need to be replaced go over trout streams, and you can only do that work at certain times.”

Because of flood damages, the park’s deer hunt scheduled for Dec. 1-5 was canceled.

The park’s campground and camper cabins weren’t damaged and will be ready for use when the park reopens. However, drinking water and flush toilets won’t be available. But that is not a large problem since those are shut down in the campground over winter anyway, Hiller said.

A more immediate issue is re-establishing water and sewer service to the visitors’ center and headquarters.

“With the road being fixed that should allow us to replace the sewer,” Hiller said.

But the park’s water comes through a pipe that runs at the bottom of Forbay Canal. Normally protected by the canal’s water, the pipe is now exposed to the elements and liable to freeze solid this winter.

“We are trying to find some temporary fix,” Hiller said.