The Ankeny to Woodward Trails project began with a juried selection process, specifically for the integration of public artwork and interpretation along the 25-mile “Rails to Trails” conversion, which was originally developed in cooperation with nine public entities and with the facilitation of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and Polk County Conservation Commission. The primary design challenge given by the selection committee asked to focus on the bridge over the Des Moines River in order to become a destination throughout Central Iowa. The bridge, now entitled the High Trestle Bridge, is a physical and symbolic connection of over 600 miles of Central Iowa trails.

The project began with extensive research, sometimes referred to as Artistic Fact-finding. This included hiking the banks of the Des Moines River, photography, and trips to local museums. An underlying narrative emerged, based on geology in the formation of the river valley and local coalmining history. We proposed this as the “big story:” to inform and influence the design of a contemporary icon with the hopes of enough popular appeal that it would become a new cultural landmark for the state of Iowa. The highlight of this trail project is the reconstruction of a 1/2 mile long bridge that spans the Des Moines River Greenbelt between Madrid and Woodward. This is the fifth longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in the country. In order to communicate this project, we also created a virtual reality video of riding across the bridge at bike speed, which helped to secure one of the largest Vision Iowa grants to date.

The installation is entitled “From Here to There.” As part of our solution to this project, we rode bicycles down the trail that was under construction and to the landings, which are the anchor approaches to the bridge. We wanted to create an experience for the visitor, whether on a bike or on foot. This linear experience is framed by the “portals” or vertical elements that form a gateway to the Des Moines River Bridge. These sculptural symbols, over 48 feet tall, speak to the geology of the area, the cutting and slicing of nature that forms this river valley. Over 16,500 individual pieces of glazed ceramic tiles represent the seams of coal along the banks of the river. Seen from a distance, the portals become a bracket. Scale is one of the most important elements to the integration of these sculptural features. They must relate in size not only to the length of the span, over 2,300 feet across the river, but also the height above the river valley, supported by massive columns, some nearly 130 feet tall. These icons visually “focus” the trail and set up the concept of entering a mine. One is inside the story, surrounded by the sculptural forms that embody history and geology. The changing geometry of the Corten steel cribbing radiates around you. The viewer moves along the path as though moving through history, through the tunnel of a mine. The tubular steel cribs are continuously welded to matching plates bolted into the parapet. All welds were independently inspected for the Iowa Department of Transportation. Blue LED fixtures highlight the inside faces of each crib and create a dynamic ambiance as the site changes from day to night. Other integrated lighting safely illuminates the bridge deck as well as the columns and valley below.

The High Trestle Trail Bridge installation is a unique combination of art and architecture. It was accomplished through a truly collaborative, multi-disciplinary process that combined the talents and expertise of artists, architects, landscape architects, graphic designers, videographers, engineers, working closely with an extensive network of fabricators and installation contractors, all under our responsibility. The project has been universally embraced by the public with an incredible number of users. It has also received recognition for contributing to the direct economic development of the local community with additions of restaurants, bars, and hotels to accommodate the public.