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Iconic Northwoods bridge to be torn down citing DOT safety concern

(WSAW)
Published: Feb. 11, 2016 at 6:36 PM CST
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The iconic Bearskin Trail Bridge, located on Highway 51 in Hazelhurst, will soon be no more. The DOT says it's not safe enough to keep up.

It's not hard to miss when you take a drive to Minocqua. The Bearskin Bridge has been in the same place since 1938. What used to be a railway bridge, is now a part of a trail used for biking, hiking and snowmobiling.

"That bridge really has been there since the beginning," said Krystal Westfahl, the Executive Director of the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce.

Once the snow melts, the bridge will be torn down and a new one built adjacent to the current one.

"The project will occur in the 2016 construction season," said Forrest VanAsten, a Project Leader at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

According to the DOT, safety, with narrow width and height, is not the only reason for the decision.

"It restricts oversize, overweight loads from being carried on highway 51. So we're going to raise the new bridge up approximately 6 feet," VanAsten explained.

Westfahl says the news is spreading like wildfire throughout the Northwoods. She says there's deep history in the steel and somthing many alumni of Lakeland Union High School are a part of.

"It is very, very important for us to keep that history alive and make sure that future generations can see what it is that meant so much to so many here," Westfahl smiled.

The feeling of coming home once you pass underneath the Bearskin Bridge is felt by many in the Northwoods community. In fact, one local artist is using his passion to convey it's significance by putting that on paper.

"It's these little things like this bridge and certain areas that really make this community memorable," said wildlife artist and owner of Parkside Gallery in Minocqua, Robert Metropolis.

He says his original painting of the bridge was done two years ago. It's detailed down to even the cracks on the road. Metropolis says his prints are very popular.

"Until we found out that it was disappearing, it wasn't a big deal. Now it's just incredible how everybody's coming out of the woodwork and they really have some passion about that bridge," Metropolis said.

Once the bridge is removed, it becomes property of whatever contractor is hired for the job. Both Westfahl and Metropolis says there's been a lot of interest in its purchase.

"We're really hoping that maybe we can make something of this bridge and save it for future years, because it means so much to so many," added Westfahl.

According to the DOT, the existing bridge will remain in place while the new bridge is built and will carry trail users over Highway 51. Once the new bridge is completed, the old one will be removed.

The construction process is hoped to begin in March or April of 2016 and completed by September 2016. Expect one lane of traffic through parts of the process.