A proposal to repurpose the bridge connecting Iowa and Illinois across the Mississippi River into a national park and wildlife crossing has gained traction. Headed by the Bison Bridge Foundation, the proposal seeks to turn the commuter bridge into a wildlife-crossing pathway, allowing the animals to roam freely between Iowa and Illinois.
The proposal, which was officially unveiled to the public on March 18, 2021, has already attracted over 27,000 signatures out of the 50,000 signatures needed. Supporters are lobbying locals to back the project in a bid to stop the demolition of the bridge, instead repurposing it into the longest human-made wildlife bridge in the world.
The Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge on I-80 has served the residents of the Quad Cities for over 55 years now. It currently serves thousands of vehicles each day, connecting five cities adjacent to the river. Quad Cities is a 380,000-person metropolitan area that spans over the states of Iowa and Illinois on either side of the Mississippi River. The five cities that make up the area include Bettendorf, Davenport, Moline, East Moline and Rock Island.
Besides saving the state of Illinois millions of dollars in demolition costs, repurposing it could draw tourists to the region. The resulting national park would be the first in both states.
The Bison Bridge, as the proposal is known, was first suggested by a local conservationist and the president and founder of Living Lands & Waters, Chad Pregracke. Pregracke is recognized for his efforts in conserving the Mississippi River. He spends months every year living on barges and cleaning up the river. Pregracke first proposed the idea four years ago, and it was immediately loved by the locals and is now being considered by the Illinois government.
“It’s a fantastic idea, a heck of a vision,” said Kevin Marchek, who worked for over 39 years at the Illinois Department of Transportation. “We’ve just got to keep pushing this until it comes to fruition.”
According to the proposal, the bridge would be turned into a multipurpose crossing way, serving pedestrians, cyclists and motorists while at the same time providing a safe pathway for wildlife. An enclosed bison paddock would allow herds of large wildlife to roam across the park between Iowa and Illinois.
Jason Baldes, member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and Tribal Partnerships – Tribal Bison Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, said that the project would help restore forgotten American history.
“The bison was known as the life commissary for my grandmas and grandpas,” Baldes said. “It was food, clothing, shelter, and was also central to our cultural and spiritual belief systems. … It’s not only important to Native American tribes, but it’s important to the American people to at least have an opportunity to learn about this history.”
Image via Bison Bridge Foundation