Cyclists and hikers can try a new sport — swing dancing — on Thursday at a grand opening of the Swing Bridge Trailhead in Inver Grove Heights.

The city and Dakota County are hosting a jazz and swing celebration to let people know about the latest access point along the Mississippi River Regional Trail.

The trail will eventually run from Hastings to South St. Paul, but a few miles are not yet complete.

The new trailhead, located in the city's Swing Bridge Park, has been finished for months. But this week's event is meant to kick off its summer use, Dakota County Visitor Services Manager Beth Landahl said.

It starts at 5 p.m. with opening remarks from local officials, followed by free swing dance lessons at 5:30 p.m. The Minnesota Jazz Orchestra will play until 8 p.m. There will be family activities and food for sale from Green Mill.

The new trailhead is an "important and exciting" addition that is intended to draw people to both the regional trail and Swing Bridge Park, Landahl said. It cost $1.4 million and includes parking, bathrooms, seating, drinking fountains and a bike repair station with wrenches and a bike pump.

However, Mississippi River Regional Trail users looking to pump their tires or stop by the bathroom have to walk or bike through an industrial area to get to the trailhead, Parks Director Steve Sullivan told county commissioners last week.

He asked the board to spend an additional $100,000 of county funds to construct a direct path between the regional trail and the new trailhead. The county's proposal says Inver Grove Heights would also pay $100,000 for the project using state bonding funds.

The County Board decided to move forward with the path plan, as well as another $200,000 project for interpretive signs near the trailhead, half which would also be covered by state bonding money.

"Greenways do so much. And interpretation and education is one of the things greenways are meant to do," Sullivan told the board.

The signs will tell readers about the swing bridge's history.

It was originally built in 1894. Fifty years later, John Dillinger crossed the bridge, fleeing law enforcement after a gunfight in Hastings.

Today, cyclists and hikers skipping town would not be able to make the same getaway. Part of the bridge collapsed in 2008. Inver Grove Heights partly rebuilt it using parts of the original structure. It now juts into the water like a pier, but does not cross into Washington County.

While heading east over the river is no longer an option, trail users who start at Swing Bridge Park can follow the regional trail north along the banks of the Mississippi River about 5 miles north to Kaposia Landing in South St. Paul, Landahl said.

Southbound travelers have a less-than-scenic stretch along Concord Boulevard. But then they are rewarded with "breathtaking views" of the Mississippi River at Pine Bend Bluffs, about 6 miles from Swing Bridge Park, she said.

Jessie Van Berkel • 612-673-4758