virtual museum

High Trestle Trail Bridge

In the early part of the 1880s, central Iowa had a growing need for the expansion of railroads to move coal and workers. The coal deposits present in the areas surrounding the Des Moines River valley brought a need for transportation across the river.

The first bridge spanning the Des Moines River between Madrid and Woodward was constructed in the mid-1880s, with replacement bridges built in 1912 and 1970. In 2003, the Union Pacific Railroad Co. planned to abandon a little-used 25-mile section of its track between Ankeny and Woodward. The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation began negations to buy the unused rail corridor. In 2005, the purchase was completed and then INHF began planning how to build and fund the High Trestle Trail project.

Soon after the purchase, the INHF recruited representatives from Polk, Story, Dallas, and Boone counties. In addition, the INHF recruited representatives from Ankeny, Sheldahl, Slater, Woodward, and Madrid. These nine committee members acted as the decision-making body for the project.1

With the purchase of the 439-acre corridor, the INHF began linking the High Trestle Trail with the 670 miles of recreation trails already in use by Iowans. It may seem that completing this 25-mile stretch, on an already existing, and fairly level, rail bed would be simple to accomplish, but crossing the Des Moines River made the project much more complex. The complication was not only due to physically changing the bridge that would span over one-half mile and stand 13 stories tall, but also because of the financial implications of such a task. The overall cost was estimated at approximately $15 million, with more than $3 million for the bridge itself. The INHF raised 80 percent of the money used for the project by way of public grants.2

Building a bridge to allow bikers, joggers, walkers, and even strollers across the Des Moines River would have been enough for some, but the ambitious committee members wanted the High Trestle Trail Bridge to stand out on a national level. The committee wanted to create something aesthetically pleasing and functional. The committee hired Iowa artist David B. Dahlquist, who envisioned molding the area's coal-mining heritage with a modern twist. The 42-foot high pillars on each end of the bridge are evocative of coal veins mined in the Des Moines River valley. The twisted steel framework, that frames pedestrians and cyclists as they cross the center of the High Trestle Trail Bridge, represents support cribs in mineshafts and serves as a throwback to Iowa's coal mining history.3 Another interesting design aspect is the presence of blue light-emitting diode (LED) lights on a section of the cribbing. These lights make for a unique nighttime experience that is unlike anything else in the state.


1. See RDG Planning & Design, "History - Latest News,"; Lisa Hein, "Iowa trails lead to High Trestle Bridge," in American Trails - your national resource for trails and greenways,

2. See Chuck Offenburger, "Raccoon River Valley Trail,” in Raccoon River Valley Trail News,; International Heritage Foundation, "INHF's role in the High Trestle Trail,"

3. Hein, ibid.

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