Jay Cooke Park set to reopen after flooding

  • Article by: CURT BROWN and BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: October 19, 2012 - 8:22 PM

Three-quarters of the trails, but no swinging bridge at the popular 97-year-old park near Duluth.

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A swinging bridge over the St Louis River was washed away by flood waters in Jay Cooke State Park earlier this summer.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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The iconic swinging bridge won't be spanning the root beer-colored St. Louis River until at least late next summer. And washed-out roads still under repair will make it tricky to get there.

But Jay Cooke State Park is set to reopen Monday, four months after historic floods tore through the popular camping and hiking spot 20 miles southwest of Duluth.

"We're really excited to see it re-open," said Karen Williams, who, along with her husband, Greg, had spent so much time in the park that they bought a home next to it seven years ago. "It's always been special to us -- the wildlife, the trails, things to explore, the memories since we were kids. It's been really difficult for us to live here and not be able to do the things we like to do. The opening is an indication it's OK for us to be there again."

With 320,000 annual visitors exploring 2,350 rocky, wooded acres, Jay Cooke ranked among the top seven state parks. That is, until the June deluge dumped more than 7 inches of rain and pumped floodwater 6 feet over the 88-year-old swinging bridge, wrenching its cables and decking.

Four months later, about three-quarters of the park's 50 miles of trails will be open Monday.

"We're all 'people people' here, so we're anxious to see customers again," park manager Gary Hoeft said Friday. But Hoeft said getting there will be "convoluted at best."

That's because Hwy. 210, which ran through the park, was already closed for bridge repair when the June 21 flooding unleashed its havoc. The highway remains closed between the park's headquarters and Duluth's Fond du Lac neighborhood, so visitors can get to the park only from the west. Even then, there will be detours for those coming up Interstate 35 from the south.

The park office, interpretive center and gift shop will be open Monday with campsites and cabins available on a first-come basis until Nov. 1, when the state will start taking reservations for 2013. Naturalist programs are slated to resume Nov. 3.

Some park options will remain closed, including:

•Backpack campsite reservations for 2013, because of limited access to those areas.

•The Willard Munger State Trail, which is still shut down between Thomson and Duluth.

•Trails on the south side of the park, which hikers accessed from the swinging bridge.

Williams said that although she and her husband and their friends can walk or ski into the park from their back yard, they always buy park stickers and haven't been in since the flood. The re-opening signals both a natural and managed renewal, she said, and now they're looking forward to volunteering for fix-up projects.

"We're excited to be part of the rebuilding," she said.

A little Jay Cooke history

That bridge first opened as a log-and-rope span in 1924 but was rebuilt during the Depression, when the Civilian Conservation Corps added stone pillars in the 1930s.

The bridge was destroyed in 1950 when floodwaters poured through at 42,000 cubic feet per second. That was the worst flooding of the St. Louis River at Jay Cooke State Park until June 21, when the bridge was wiped out again as water raged at 55,000 cubic feet per second. Park officials hope to reopen the old bridge by late next summer.

Jay Cooke State Park was named after a Philadelphia banker who got rich selling Civil War bonds. He bought up land in the area to invest in a railroad that would run from nearby Carlton to Tacoma, Wash. His heirs donated the land to the state for the park in 1915, along with $18,000 in unpaid back taxes.

The Department of Natural Resources has produced an interactive map of the flood-damaged areas at the park. Go to tinyurl.com/8t6srf4.

curt.brown@startribune.com • 612-673-4767 bill.mcauliffe@startribune.com • 612-673-7646

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