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A Special WUWM News SeriesThe Milwaukee River allowed commerce and industry to thrive during the city's formative years and provided recreation. However, disregard for the river's health led to decades of decay.WUWM News explores recent developments to rejuvenate the Milwaukee River and their success at drawing people back to the city's historic arterial.

Public Meeting Tuesday Takes Up Future of Lake Park's Historic Footbridge

Susan Bence
The drive snaking under Lake Park's footbridge has been closed to cars since December 2014.

The Milwaukee County Parks system seems to swing between two extremes. On one hand, its green space creates a ring,  some compare to an exquisite emerald necklace. On the other, parks are crippled by deferred maintenance.

One example is Lake Park, where officials closed a 110-year-old footbridge because it is crumbling.

The fate of the bridge that spans a ravine, and a winding roadway below, will be the topic of a public information meeting this evening at Lake Park.

The zigzagging road is designed for cars, but these days only walkers and bikers travel it. Above their heads Lake Park’s footbridge looks miserable.

Credit Susan Bence
The underside of the bridge.

“It’s in rough shape, you can see rebar exposed. And also the drainage, you can see it from here, the drainage spouts. So the water just comes down and just goes,” Matthew Jarosz says.

Jarosz teaches at UWM’s School of Architecture & Urban Planning and is a member of the work group considering what should become of the footbridge. He knows its history.

It was one the first bridges in Wisconsin fashioned of concrete. Its cut-out shapes – elegant large teardrops – remain as evidence of its fine design.

The man who designed New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead, created Lake Park’s master plan in the 1890s.

Credit Susan Bence

Alfred C. Clas, a respected local  architect, folded in the pavilion and grand staircase that continue to grace the park – along with the footbridge.

Jarocz says the work group is considering a half dozen solutions to rectify its condition – from eliminating it to restoring the structure to its original spirit to building a new bridge with a fresh design.

For example, a Minnesota-based team has submitted an idea based on the bridge’s original design.

“And they call for steel underpinning underneath the arch and bracing and so forth. It’s more extensive. It’ll last longer, that’s a sort of 40-50 year solution,” Jarocz says.

Price estimates swing between $270,000 to more than $2.5 million.

Fellow work group member Bill Lynch represents the local organization Preserve Our Parks.

Credit Milwaukee County Parks
Map of Lake Park

He wants to make sure that if some version of restoration makes sense and if funding is available that Milwaukee County avails itself of it.

“So, we’re trying to find out, how likely is that, if Milwaukee County applied for federal funds on a historic preservation basis to help with the cost of the bridge, how likely is it that we would prevail and to what extent. Because it’s the net cost to the taxpayers that is the taxpayer concern,” Lynch says.

Lynch thinks the time for making a decision could arrive quite soon.

“There’s been some discussion of having a target time to make a report with a single option recommendation to the County Board maybe next month. This is not, we’re discussing this for the next year or so,” Lynch says.

Matt Jarosz believes there’s still plenty of time to explore options. “It is really just a very preliminary stage. You can’t even say that this is a design phase. What it really is, it’s exploring cost alternatives,” he says.

But the two planners seem to be in accord on at least one point: Doing nothing about the Lake Park footbridge is not an option.

Tuesday's public information meeting on the future of the Lake Park footbridge starts at 5 pm in the lower level of Lake Park Pavilion.

Credit Susan Bence
Overgrown scrub trees hide remnants of footbridge's remaining original charm.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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