Farewell, Squaw Creek Trestle

September 27th, 2010 · No Comments

The following article was originally submitted as a letter to the editor of The Tribune on August 22 but never published (the paper had previously covered the issue, however). Soon after, the Squaw Creek trestle was demolished over a period of about two weeks.

During the recent flooding in Ames I walked down my street to the abandoned steel trestle that spans the Squaw Creek, just south of the main railroad bridge. At its peak level that morning, the water was flowing just a foot or two below my feet. But the trestle stood firm. And no wonder. It was built for locomotives lugging ore and coal to ISU; it was built to last. (Note: sometimes this trestle is referred to as the “Dinkey Bridge,” but the Dinkey’s trestle was a wooden structure and is, like the Dinkey, long gone.)

Full disclosure: I have lived in a house about 300 feet from the east end of this trestle for the past 14 years. It is a part of my neighborhood’s open space network (unofficially, of course, since it’s private property). But the trestle, along with the rail bed extending west to the city’s asphalt bike path, is also an essential piece of Ames’ pedestrian open space network. Many people use this corridor on a daily basis, year-round. I can hardly believe that it will soon be demolished.

Several months ago, as I understand it, the railroad offered the trestle to the city free of charge, and the city looked that gift horse in the mouth, countering with a demand that the railroad sweeten the deal with cash so that the city could make improvements to the trestle and path necessary for its conversion to a bikeway. The city’s reasoning was that since the railroad would have to spend more money than the city asked for on demolition, the railroad would be willing to meet the demand.

And then, in a turn of events that seems to reveal a lack of political acumen on the part of our elected officials, or a lack of negotiating skills, or a miscalculation of demolition costs, or the lack of something pretty essential in looking after the interests of Ames and its residents, the railroad said no. So now, everybody loses. Way to go, guys.

This corridor is a unique landscape, and it is that entire (historic) landscape that is irreplaceable. If the trestle goes, the entire corridor (several hundred feet long) ceases to exist. Even if the 6th Street vehicular bridge over Squaw Creek is someday widened for the sake of adding a non-suicidal bike lane, as the city suggested could happen within 10 years, we will have lost this beautiful landscape remnant, an inviting green “tunnel” through the forested floodplain of Squaw Creek. This corridor doesn’t just connect my neighborhood with ISU; it also constitutes a pedestrian alternative to the existing path abutting traffic-heavy 6th Street for anyone moving between the Main Street district and ISU side of town.

I commend the city for its work through the years to improve and extend a bikeway network. This effort greatly benefits a great many people who use the paths for recreation (not just cyclists, but also skaters, joggers, and walkers) as well as for commuting. The addition of this unique link across Squaw Creek would be a significant enhancement of that network.

This morning, I walked down to the trestle with my bow saw and loppers in order to cut away tree limbs that had fallen over the path west of the trestle. I’ve done that several times over the years. Here’s my offer: if the city will do the right thing and accept the railroad’s offer, I’ll continue as volunteer limb-removal maintenance guy.

On my walk back home this morning, I took note of something painted on the ties by one of the anonymous graffiti artists who have decorated the trestle in recent years: “We knew we had the good things/but those never seem to last.” I urge the city to make a renewed effort to preserve this very good thing.

Related articles
The Future of the Dinkey Bridge

Tags: AP Issues · Commentary · Of Local Importance · September 2010

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