A bridge over the Upper Peninsula’s Tahquamenon River hasn’t hurt tourism, as some worried, and has made a visit to the park safer and more accessible, park officials said.
The142-foot-long bridge was installed in Tahquamenon Falls State Park in September amid controversy. Some patrons feared it would take away from the views in the area.
It connects the park’s mainland to a 7-acre island, which has a widened walking path and views of several waterfalls on the river. Before the bridge was installed, the island was only accessible by rowboat.
That posed accessibility problems for people who couldn’t maneuver a boat as well as emergency responders, prompting the $1.28 million bridge project.
Kevin Dennis, park manager at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, said that most people, once they saw the location of the bridge, didn’t object.
“I think some folks maybe thought that it was going to be out more in the open view and an eyesore and all these things, but it’s not,” Dennis said. “It’s been received overwhelmingly positively. I haven’t heard a single bad comment.”
Anyone can visit the island now, Dennis said.
“People with all sorts of abilities and needs are able to be there now,” he said. “People with walkers and wheelchairs and electric scooters that would have never been able to be over there before are able to visit. They can all be there now.”
Even before the bridge was completed, it was what visitors said they wanted to see in surveys conducted by the park. People hoped for a more accessible park, they told rangers, and the new bridge is one piece of that.
It is difficult to judge how the bridge has affected the number of visitors to the park, Dennis said. The park store, where people can typically rent the rowboats required to get to the island, is closed this year. But anecdotally, Dennis said the bridge has been a “huge addition to the park experience.”
Other accessibility efforts also are available, including redesigning and rebuilding an accessible trail that goes around the island as well as some additional boardwalk.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced Aug. 15 that the bridge itself would be named the Ronald A. Olson Island Bridge, in honor of the chief of Michigan Parks and Recreation.
Olson has been in the role for 17 years, the state said in a news release, and naming the bridge after him is “an apt symbol for Olson, who has built a career around bringing people together and encouraging them to aim for destinations they can it yet see.”
“When it comes to possibilities in parks and recreation, nobody is better at building bridges and getting people to the table than Ron Olson,” said DNR director Dan Eichinger in the release.
Many of Olson’s signature efforts have included getting more people to connect with the outdoors, making it fitting that a bridge meant to make the island in Tahquamenon Falls State Park more accessible is named after him.
The new bridge does not mean the end of the park’s iconic boats. Dennis confirmed the rowboats will return in 2023.
“Folks are worried about the boats going away,” he said. “But as long as the demand is there, there are going to be boats.”