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New foot bridge OK'd at state park

MADISON - The State Building Commission approved the purchase May 20, of a $368,700 foot bridge that will further open the undeveloped north side of Willow River State Park to a growing number of visitors, a Department of Natural Resource official said.

The 120-foot-long pedestrian bridge will be installed one-third of a mile downstream from the Little Falls Dam and link hiking trails on the south and north side of Little Falls Lake. All the development in the park is on the south side of the Willow River and the 1,000 acres on the north side will remain a passive recreation area for hikers and cross-country skiers.

Another pedestrian bridge is located three miles upstream from the dam in the northeast portion of the 2,891-acre park.

Willow River is the closest Wisconsin state park to Minneapolis-St. Paul and has become a popular day use and camping destination with 347,000 visitors last year who generated $260,000 in fee income, according to information the DNR supplied to the commission.

The current 78 campsites are filled to 99.1 percent capacity each summer weekend, which has prompted the DNR to begin construction on an 81-site family campground while an 80-person group campground is under consideration, said John Hagman, DNR's director of facilities management.

More camping facilities are also expected to add to the park's revenue capabilities and reduce the visitors who are turned away for lack of campsites, according to the DNR.

"With more people using the park we needed a bridge that will get them safely across the river to the five miles of new trails on the north side," he said.

The new bridge's five-ton capacity will allow hikers, cross-skiers and trail maintenance vehicles to use it but not bicyclists, as bicycles would cause erosion problems on the north side trails, said Hagman.

The new bridge will be built off site, transported to the park and installed next summer as the family campground is completed, said Hagman. Approximately 120 feet of trail will be constructed to link the bridge and the trail systems on either side of the lake.

Financing for the project will come from the Stewardship program.

With more visitors expected in coming years, a number of projects are being considered including a handicapped accessible cabin, boat dock, fishing pier and amphitheater. Some existing structures will need to be repaired or replaced, according to DNR information.

Willow River, located six miles northwest of Hudson was designated as a state park in 1967. A 1,000-acre acquisition several years ago allowed it to stretch 5.5 miles along the river, which has become a well-known trout stream since the removal of two dams in recent years. The remaining Little Falls dam creates a 172-acre flowage.