The view from the soggy Moline shore Thursday showed a new path to Sylvan Island.
Crews recently poured the top layer of concrete over the deck of the 12-by-200-foot bridge that soon will carry outdoors enthusiasts across Sylvan Slough to the 35-acre island.
“The bridge itself is done,” Ben Hott, project manager for General Constructors Inc. of Bettendorf, said later Thursday. “We’ve gotten a lot of work done in a short amount of time.”
As of this week, Hott said, they are on schedule to open the bridge to the general public by Dec. 6. The Illinois Department of Transportation awarded the $820,560 contract for the job this past April, and General Constructors began working in early September.
“We can’t wait to get it open for everyone,” Hott continued. “It’s (Sylvan Island) something that people from our company use, too.”
In April 2013, engineers deemed the former 145-year-old bridge unsafe for foot traffic, and the city of Moline fenced off the walkway to prevent people from crossing it. Since the closure, only those with boats have accessed what previously has been called a “gem” of the Mississippi River for bikers, hikers, bird watchers and anglers, just south of the Rock Island Arsenal.
This past Sunday, about 25 volunteers with Friends of Off-Road Cycling, or FORC, used boats to ferry shovels, hand saws, loppers and rogue hoes to Sylvan Island to rehab their old, overgrown trails.
“Logistically, it’s been pretty tough,” said Ray Nees, who co-organized the effort. “By the time you get over there, unload your tools and set up to work, you’re already tired because of everything you had to do to get to that point.”
However, with help from the top trail builders in the area, he noted, the group made a lot of progress. They chopped through roots and cleared a significant amount of brush, debris and logs that blocked parts of the island’s formerly groomed 4-mile trail network.
“There are places you just can’t tell where the trail was even though we’ve ridden hundreds of laps out there,” said Nees, who reevaluated the situation Thursday with fellow steward Kurt Davis.
The duo began revisiting their old stomping grounds this past spring, and they since have invested and overseen almost 800 hours of trail work. They hope to ready three miles of trails before the bridge opens and the final mile before next April, just in time to host the 10th Sylvan Island Stampede. The mountain bike race drew more than 300 competitors in 2013.
The following year, Moline received a $1.1 million grant from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, which is funding 80 percent of the project’s costs. The city is paying for the remaining 20 percent.
'It touches your heart'
As for the old bridge, workers operating a crane from a barge on the Sylvan Slough, a secondary channel of the Mississippi, tore it down in early October and recycled what they could, Hott said. Anderson Bridges of Colfax, Wisconsin, fabricated the new span, which can hold up to 20,000 pounds.
Although the actual bridge work is done, Hott stressed that the structure remains closed until further notice. However, General Constructors is offering FORC volunteers limited access to the bridge during business hours on weekdays, but Nees and the others have full-time jobs of their own.
“We realize it’s somewhat of a tedious task to get their equipment across on kayaks and boats,” Hott said, “but we have to maintain safety on the site.”
Throughout the next month, General Constructors must replace a portion of the Great River Trail, which leads to the entrance of the bridge, finish a retaining wall and add various landscaping features nearby.
In the meantime, Nees plans to make additional trips to the island on his trusty 12-foot flat-bottom boat that he salvaged from his brother’s place.
“Getting to go back out there with just a small group, it touches your heart a little bit,” he said. “The memories of good times come rushing back and you feel like you get to do something that everybody wishes they could do, so yeah, that’s pretty cool.”