A celebration this weekend in the southeast Iowa town of Columbus Junction marks the 100th birthday of a foot bridge built of wire cables and wooden planks.
It’s gone by many names, like the Lovers Leap Bridge that includes the legend of a heartbroken Native American maiden. Bev Nielsen, the town’s parks and recreation director, says what’s now simply called the Swinging Bridge is used every day by the locals, but it’s also become a popular tourist destination.
“It’s over a ravine,” Nielsen says. “During wet times, there is a trickle of water. It’s eight stories high and 262 feet long — and it does swing.” While metal fencing serves as guard rails on both sides of the plank flooring, eight stories up is plenty high, she says, so crossing the century-old bridge isn’t for the faint of heart, especially the first time you venture out there alone and it starts to sway.
“It’s usually quite a thrill the first time,” Nielsen says, laughing. “Some people don’t make it all the way across, they turn back. The locals ride bicycles over it and see how far they can make it swing and bounce, so you get used to it. It’s a fun walk and right now it’s gorgeous, with the leaves turning and everything.”
Located in a wooded area near the center of Columbus Junction, she says that deep valley has long been an obstacle which area residents have endeavored to tame. “There’s been a bridge at that location since 1886,” Nielsen says. “The first one was made with wire and barrel staves from neighbors on Fourth Street that wanted to get to Third Street without walking around the big ravine. It didn’t last long.”
At least two other bridges were built over the steep drop-off before the current bridge was designed ten decades ago, and yes, the boards have been replaced a few times since then. Events in Columbus Junction this weekend include a parade, a car show, live music, history talks — and a 5-K walk that cuts through three city parks and over seven foot bridges, including two jaunts over the Swinging Bridge.