The dinner plans are set and the final pieces are nearly in place as the restoration of Stillwater’s Lift Bridge nears the finish line.
Still on — at least for now, despite the uncertainty created by the coronavirus outbreak — is the city’s plan to seat 600 diners in mid-May on the bridge deck over the St. Croix River for a one-time celebratory feast celebrating the bridge’s grand opening.
Also scheduled is a Guinness World Records attempt to line up and link thousands of people along the 4.7-mile interstate bike trail that will include the bridge.
City Council Member Mike Polehna said that he and others have been talking to health officials about the spread of COVID-19, but it’s too soon to know if the city will have to change its plans.
“If we have to cancel it, we’ll cancel it,” he said.
Nevertheless, excitement is running high for the bridge’s reopening. Some 600 tickets for the bridge dinner sold out in less than two days, and a street dance and pancake breakfast are also planned.
The Guinness record attempt would take place on the St. Croix Crossing Loop Trail, a circular walking and biking trail that runs on both sides of the river and is connected on the north by the Lift Bridge and on the south by the new St. Croix Crossing Bridge.
The hope is that thousands of locals will line the Loop Trail and link up by holding one another’s wrists, said organizer Sara Jespersen. Linking wrists, as opposed to holding hands, has to do with the Guinness requirements, she said.
Keenly aware that the event might not go well if people are still worried about viruses, Jespersen is taking a wait-and-see attitude. She’s planning for about 7,000 people to join the effort, which would be more than enough to line the entire trail, she said.
“As with most things right now, you plow forward so you’re not living in fear,” Jespersen said.
Even if the events don’t come together that weekend, the excitement about Stillwater finally getting the Lift Bridge back in use is real, said Brent Peterson, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.
The city nearly lost the Lift Bridge when agreements were made to replace it. Built in 1931, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge was listed as one of America’s 11 most endangered historic places in 1997 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Preservationists fought for the bridge’s survival, but after 15 months of negotiations an official with the Federal Highway Administration said the agency couldn’t please everyone and that the aging bridge would be torn down as soon as its replacement was built downriver.
A groundswell of support for the bridge from preservationists, local politicians, residents and the downtown business community pushed back and eventually prevailed, Peterson said.
“It’s an iconic structure, not only for Stillwater but for the St. Croix River and for Minnesota,” he said.
The “Lift and Loop Celebration” is slated to kick off May 15 with a beer tent, dinner served on the bridge and a street dance. A ribbon-cutting will be held the next morning, followed by the “Hands Across the Croix” event along the trail.