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NOTES @ NOON

Notes @ Noon: Sylvan Island bridge to be replaced this fall

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Recreation on Sylvan Island has become a thing of the past — beloved memories exchanged between hikers, mountain bikers and other nature lovers in the Quad-Cities.

"It's been forgotten due to the fact it's inaccessible," said Ben Hott, a 37-year-old Moline native, who frequented the island on bike during his teenage years.

Engineers deemed the bridge between the Moline shore and the island unsafe for foot traffic in April 2013, and the city of Moline fenced off the walkway to prevent people from crossing it.

But outdoors enthusiasts soon will have the chance to return to their old stomping grounds just south of the Rock Island Arsenal.

Next month, a crew will tear down the 145-year-old bridge that connects the Great River Trail to the 35-acre island. Then, in October, they will install a new 12-foot-wide steel span that will stretch 200 feet across the Sylvan Slough. 

Bridge construction

The Illinois Department of Transportation awarded the $820,560 contract for the job this past April to General Constructors Inc. of Bettendorf. 

Hott, who doubles as a project manager for the company, said the action won't start until September.

“We’re going to begin mobilizing equipment within the next couple of weeks,” he said. “It should look pretty nice when it’s all said and done.”

Moline received a $1.1 million grant in 2014 from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, which will fund 80 percent of the costs. The city will pay for the remaining 20 percent, city engineer Scott Hinton said. 

Codfish Hollow Vertical Timeline

First bridge

A bridge to Sylvan Island, located between the Rock Island Arsenal and the Rock Island-Moline border, is built for horse-drawn carriages and ox carts. Before long, a weight limit is placed on the span — only one team of horses is allowed to cross at a time.

1872

Industrious beginnings

A steel plant opens on the 35-acre island, which formerly was home to ice harvesting, quarrying and hydro-electric power operations.

1894

Moline buys land

The city of Moline purchases the island for $75,000 with plans for a park, 10 years after Republican Iron & Steel Co., which occupied half the isle, closed its foundry. The bridge is closed to vehicular traffic just a few years later, following a report on its diminishing carrying capacity.

1966

Volunteers take over

A group of volunteers, dubbed the Sylvan Island Dreamers, band together to clear trees, brush and debris on the island, which they coin the “gem” of the Mississippi River. They also create wider trails, attracting more hikers, bicyclists, anglers and bird watchers.

1993

Island adventures

Friends of Off-Road Cycling hosts its inaugural mountain bike race called the Sylvan Island Stampede, inspiring similar events there in the following years, including River Action's Taming of the Slough and Lagomarcino's Cocoa Beano 5K run. The bridge already has undergone numerous structural improvements at this point.

2005

Bridge deemed dangerous

Engineers determine the bridge to Sylvan Island, which has too much “bounce,” no longer is safe for foot traffic. People ignore "bridge closed" signs, so Moline hires a crew to raise fencing at both ends of the crossing to prevent them from using it.

April 2013

State steps up

Moline receives a $1.1 million grant from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program to help replace the decrepit bridge. Only those with boats can access the overgrown island.

2014

New bridge coming

The Illinois Department of Transportation awarded General Constructors Inc. of Bettendorf an $820,560 contract this past April to replace the Sylvan Island span. The contractor plans to begin work within two weeks, remove the original bridge by the end of September and unveil the new structure before Thanksgiving.

Today

As construction ensues, Hott said, workers will remove the top concrete deck of the old crossing before taking down the supportive steel around it from a barge. They plan to renovate the existing pier in the middle of the slough and the abutments on each end. 

Anderson Bridges of Colfax, Wisconsin, currently is fabricating the new bridge, which will look similar to the current one, just more modern, Hott said.  

If all goes well, the project should wrap up by Thanksgiving.

Since the closure almost 4½ years ago, only those with watercraft, including Floatzilla paddlers who portaged across the island this past weekend, can access what previously has been called a "gem" of the Mississippi River.

Volunteer power

Beginning this past spring, volunteer stewards Ray Nees, Kurt Davis and Becky Bernard, members of Friends of Off-Road Cycling, or FORC, have been revisiting their old trails in advance of the island's reopening. 

Before the bridge closed, Nees said, many mountain bikers flocked to the four-mile loop on the property. In 2005, he and Davis met up for post-work rides up to five nights a week.

"We rode it for years and just had a ball with it," he said. "We miss it." 

That same year, FORC launched its annual mountain bike race there called the Sylvan Island Stampede, which drew more than 300 participants before the bridge closed. 

So far this year, the team has logged 250-300 hours of gritty labor on the island, clearing their way through "ruthless" poison ivy patches to assess and flag their original, now-overgrown trails. They buzz over there with a load of tools on Nees' 10-foot flat-bottom boat. 

By the time the new bridge opens in late November, they hope to have about two miles back up and running. 

For that to happen, however, they need to enlist the help of other volunteers, which Nees said, should not be too hard once the bridge work revs up. 

"As soon as the crane shows up, that's when I'm going to be getting calls," he said. "We want to be ready for them and have things for them to do that will actually make a difference." 

They estimate that it will take upward of 1,000 hours to rehabilitate the island's former four-mile trail network. They want to wrap up that work before hosting the 10th Sylvan Island Stampede next spring. 

"Everybody that goes over to the island at this point really feels privileged," Nees said. "We're getting to do something that everybody wishes they could do. It's thrilling."

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Editor's note: Look for reporter Jack Cullen's Notes @ Noon Tuesday, Thursday and Friday online at noon. He will capture various sides of life in the Quad-Cities. Contact him at jcullen@qctimes.com or 563-383-2363.

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Jack Cullen covers health and the outdoors for the Quad-City Times.