A man known for cleaning up rivers in America has just announced his latest "big idea." Chad Pregracke wants to save the current I-80 Bridge if it's replaced, and turn it into Bison Bridge.
Pregracke says it all started about 25 years ago when he hired a plane to take him up over the bridge and interchange on the Illinois side, in Rapids City. Then five years go, a tornado tore through the interchange, breaking and blowing down trees. He and his group, Living Lands and Waters, have been trying to restore it ever since.
"The bridge wasn't in the plan at that time, then when I found out they were going to demolish the bridge and build a new one through my restoration work I've been doing there, there was an "ah hah" moment with that. When I was driving over the bridge looking at how wide the bridge was and how simple the bridge was, I thought what if this lane was dedicated to a small herd of bison, it would help people stop here. They could basically graze their way over to Iowa, then graze their way back to illinois, grazing grounds on both sides."
So why bison, instead of say wild horses, or some other interesting animal ?
"I've always been fascinated with bison. I've always thought they were really cool and it's not just me alone. You know there's wildlife viewing areas when you go out to Colorado and there's always tons of people stopped there to view them. They're just really neat animals. At one time in North America there weree 60 million bison estimated, and then by the 1900's there were down to a few thousand but some people had enough foresight to say let's save this species of animals from mass extinction and now there's people all over with small herds here and there but people love wildlife viewing, whether it's looking at eagles or watching bison. This would offer both."
Pregracke went online and found someone who's worked to preserve bison on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and he's expected to visit this area this summer.
And along with helping to preserve this species, Pregracke says it would help the Quad Cities.
"And there are 42,000 cars that travel on Interstate 80 a day, and there are 42,000 cars that are driving right by the Quad Cities even though the Mississippi River is there. It's just that people are driving on by and I just feel that is it's like 42,000 opportunities to put the Quad Cities on a map, daily."
The amount of land that'll be available on each side of the Bison Bridge will depend on the new I-80 bridge - a final decision on building a new one has NOT been made yet, but it does seem likely.
"I think the majority of the land is on the Illinois side. The rest area alone has 62 acres and then what land is available just between the two cloverleafs is roughly 30 acres, and the land around it. And we hope that there'll be maybe 10 or 15 acres on the Iowa side, maybe more."
Pregracke says you can look to similar pedestrian bridges in Cincinnati and Knoxville, Tennessee, but his favorite is Louisville, Kentucky. All three are very popular, and none of them has bison or the Mississippi River.
"It is a long ways from me just starting out in a john boat picking up tires and wanting to clean up the river, but I've learned a lot along the way and I've met a lot of wonderful people, and I've seen a lot of examples of wonderful things happening. I'm a firm believer that this is the one place in the world where you truly can make big things happen if you bring a lot of people together for a common cause."
So our role in this is to go to the Bison Bridge website (https://bisonbridge.org/) and show our support - he needs 50,000 signatures to show state officials that people support this project.