MANKATO — There might be more photographs of the bridge over Minneopa Falls than any other in south-central Minnesota history.
Howard Ward, the park manager at Minneopa State Park for 31 years before retiring in 2008, wouldn’t take a guess at how many times people posed on the graceful arched bridge with the falls in the background. But countless times, Ward saw the cameras come out.
“Kodak made its fortunes,” he said.
So it wasn’t for lack of photographs that Wayne Boerna decided a few more should be snapped of the bridge Sunday. The Minneopa Park manager for more than three years after Ward retired, Boerna thought the bridge was significant enough to merit some official final photos for posterity — of the bridge and people who had affection for it.
“To me that’s just an icon of the landscape from when I was a little child,” said Boerna, now manager of William O’Brien State Park near Stillwater.
The crumbling bridge is more than 90 years old and was set to be demolished today. There were rumors of a delay in the scheduled demolition, so there may be a few more strolls across it and a few more pics taken.
But the span’s life is definitely very nearly done, and several area residents agreed with Boerna’s sentiment that its passing shouldn’t go unmarked. Ward was on hand and so were several members of the Friends of Minneopa State Park organization.
Boerna said the bridge was built in 1921 for $2,200 and has been battling the elements ever since. Because of the mist that rises up from the falls, a concrete bridge over a waterfall gets an extra dose of elements, at least in non-drought years.
“This one is falling to pieces,” said Gordon Herbst, a member of Friends of Minneopa. “... Let’s not take any chances if we can help it.”
Herbst grew up near the park and he remembers the scenery at the bridge wasn’t always perfect. Turns out the guy who delivered coal to homes and businesses in Mankato used the falls to get cleaned up.
“This is where he’d come to strip off a certain amount of his clothes,” Herbst said.
No word of any pictures of the solitary semi-naked coal guy, but the bridge is the centerpiece of endless group photos in albums across the region. The historic park has long been a traditional destination for elementary school field trips, family reunions and wedding parties.
Merrill Frydendall, a Kansas native who came to Mankato in 1966 to teach biology at Minnesota State University, visited the park regularly.
“It’s just a wonderful place to bring your family and have a picnic and enjoy this beautiful place,” Frydendall said.
When parents and siblings visited from Kansas, a trip to Minneopa was standard. So was a picture of the group on the bridge over the falls.
“There’s a lot of pictures of Frydendalls on the bridge,” he said.
A new bridge is planned, along with improvements to the railings along the edge of the gorge below the falls. Department of Natural Resources officials couldn’t be reached for details of the construction schedule.
Ward figures the schedule, whatever the details, is about two decades late.
“It’s about time they fixed it,” he said. “I think probably 20 years ago I proposed a project to replace it.”
Although Ward wants a new bridge, he doesn’t want a new look.
“I hope they come up with something that — if not exactly alike — is very, very similar,” he said.