Old rail bridge at Ramsey closed for safety

Published 4:56 pm Wednesday, July 12, 2023

County, DNR agreed on closure of Cedar River crossing

 

Safety concerns recently led officials to close the abandoned railroad bridge indefinitely for public use over the Cedar River at Ramsey Mill Pond.

Barricades prohibit foot or vehicle traffic July 11, 2023, over the abandoned 1911 railroad bridge that crosses the Cedar River State Water Trail at Ramsey Mill Pond due to safety concerns with the crossing, just north of Austin in Lansing Township. Mower County and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources share co-ownership of the bridge (west half belongs to the county; east half to the state). Photo provided

Relocated in 1911 to its present-day site, the bridge has deteriorating, wooden planks that include some planks with large holes. The bridge also does not have railings on its sides and the overall structure is showing signs of needing rehabilitation or replacement. 

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In a press release Wednesday from the Cedar River Watershed District, Mower County and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, who co-own the bridge, agreed to close the crossing to public use. Previously, people could enter the bridge from the county’s property on the west end or the trail on the state’s Wild Indigo Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) from the east. The county owns the bridge’s west half and the state owns its east half. 

A 2019 drone photo by CRWD shows the 1911 rail bridge and the stretch of the Cedar River State Water Trail called Ramsey Mill Pond, which is Mower County’s largest body of water. Photo provided

Conservative estimates at this point total more than $500,000 to repair the 220-foot-long bridge that overlooks Ramsey Mill Pond – the county’s largest waterbody (53 acres) created by the Ramsey Dam on the Cedar – and the state’s adjacent Ramsey Mill Pond Wildlife Management Area (WMA) that totals nearly 400 acres. 

Officials plan to conduct further studies on the bridge’s deficiencies and safety concerns to determine the depth of work needed to reopen the crossing to the public and the estimated cost for that work. This will include evaluating the steel structure and its concrete foundations. 

Located on the Wild Indigo SNA, the trail begins in the middle of the bridge and runs the old railbed to the east. The trail remains accessible to the public from Mower County Road 61 (21st St NE in Austin), one mile east from the bridge. 

This bridge is part of the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad railbed that crossed the Cedar River and built in the early 1870s with horse-drawn graders and manpower. This railroad was one of the oldest in the State of Minnesota, according to a DNR report in 1983, but was abandoned in 1980 as part of a 100-mile section from La Crescent, Minn., to Ramsey, which was a village north of Austin with two railroads running through it.

In August 1911, the Southern Minnesota Railway replaced a wooden crossing with today’s bridge made from steel. Concrete abutments holding up the bridge were created about six months before that. 

The structure originally was built in 1887 and relocated in 1911 to cross the Cedar River, according to John Marvig Bridges website focused on Midwest bridges. It says this bridge first was part of a wing bridge across the Menomonee River in Milwaukee. 

Marvig ranks the bridge as being “regionally significant due to the unique design and history.”