High Trestle Trail is a rail trail running 25 miles (40 km) from Ankeny, Iowa, to Woodward, Iowa. The recreation trail opened on April 30, 2011. It is a paved recreational trail that runs through the counties of Polk, Story, Boone, and Dallas in Iowa. The trail’s name is derived from a bridge that spans a series of high trestles crossing the Des Moines River between the towns of Madrid and Woodward.
Conservation board directors at the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation estimate that more than 3,000 people use this trail each week. The trail is a major component of a planned pair of 100-mile (160 km) loops that will meet near Des Moines.
The High Trestle Trail follows the route of a former Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) freight line between Woodward and Ankeny, Iowa. UPRR first proposed retiring the line in 2003. The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF), which had organized other rail-trail projects in Iowa, bought the 439-acre corridor from UPRR in 2005. As part of the transaction, UPRR donated over $3 million of land value. INHF then transferred sections of the land to partner agencies in the five cities and four counties within the corridor.
Construction on the trail, designed by engineering firm Snyder and Associates, began in early 2005 and was overseen by Polk County Engineering. Stretches ending at the termini in Woodward and Ankeny were the first segments constructed. Additional construction was funded by a $5.6 million Congressional appropriation in 2006. With the help of additional state and federal grants, 20 remaining miles of trail were completed and opened to the public in 2008.
The last portion to be completed was the trestle bridge from which the trail derives its name. A $1.75 million grant from Vision Iowa, a project of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, funded the construction of a new bridge deck designed by RDG Dahlquist Art Studios and structural engineering firm Shuck-Briston. The project was officially completed with the grand opening of the bridge in April 2011. Following its completion, the trail was awarded a Mid American Energy Trails and Greenways project award that October.
The 13-story (40-meter) high and nearly half-mile (770-meter) long trestle bridge provides scenic views of the Des Moines River Valley and is located near mining shafts that were worked by Italian immigrant families and others who settled nearby. The bridge decking incorporates a decorative structure that represents the view through a mine shaft, and its design includes decorative lighting that remains on until midnight.
The bridge was originally built in the 1970s to carry rail traffic on a Milwaukee Road line. With the retirement of that rail line in the early 2000s, the original bridge deck was removed, and its steel I-beams were reused for a new Union Pacific bridge in Boone, Iowa. However, the piers (or trestles) remained in place, and the original piers now support a new deck designed for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Between the removal of the original decking and the construction of its replacement, the single-file line of unconnected concrete piers was informally known as “Iowa’s Stonehenge.”
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