Work resumed at full pace In 1874, when the high trestle over the Le Sueur River bridge was built. The line continued through towns such as Mapleton. After going through a couple more towns, it ended up at the Milwaukee Road at Wells. It could access Albert Lea, Austin and other places too. It eventually did become part of the Milwaukee Road in 1880.
After the Milwaukee Road takeover, it was reduced to a branch line. It did connect to the line from Mankato to Farmington. Milwaukee Road operated over this line for almost 100 year s, before it finally abandoned a portion from Minnesota Lake, near wells to Mankato. The part from Wells to Minnesota Lake is still used.
The tracks were ripped out, but for some reason, the bridges never were. Soon after the abandonment, a group of citizens proposed the development of a trail from Mankato to Rapidan, just south of Mankato.
But controversy followed. Proponents cited the scenic valley, preservation of the historic high trestle, danger to bikers and pedestrians along TH66, and conservation values. Opponents cited danger to users, loss of farmland, and loss of privacy to adjacent landowners. Local newspapers got in on the debate, and opponents began a petition to put an end to trail talks. Both the county and the DNR lost interest in the project.
But people weren't ready to give up. A private group within the city purchased the center 30 feet of the railroad for a couple miles. A trail was developed from West High School to the south end of town.
By 1991, the Red Jacket Trail Task Force which was organized by a group of citizens approaches Blue Earth County and asked for money and permission to develop all the way to Rapidan. 24 land owners agreed. About 1/3 gave up the land, another 1/3 sold it, and the last bit the county had to just take their land.
Finally, the trail was built by the task force. They almost instantly turned it over to the County. This trail is a rare example of the county, state, city and citizens all working together.
The trail was routed to go under county 90, to avoid crossing 90. It was also relocated around Mount Kato Ski Area.
This trail starts in suburban backyards, goes up into the bluffs, crosses high above the Le Sueur River, then goes into the woods and eventually crosses through farm fields.
Disaster struck the Le Sueur River bridge, nicknamed the Red Jacket Trestle in fall 2010
after record flooding. Part of the stone base on Pier #3 collapsed, and there was debate
over what to do with the bridge. It was decided to pull Span #2 off the pier, and repair
it. But when the span came off, the pier collapsed. The span was put on the ground in
Red Jacket Park, next to the bridge. A replica pier was built out of concrete, the span
was put back in place, and It reopened 11-11-11. What a coincidence!
This is the Le Sueur River bridge. It has seen everything in it's long life. From standing alone high in the woods, to standing next to a concrete arch highway bridge, from seeing the highway bridge get washed out to seeing it's own pier get washed out.
The Deck Plate Girder Spans date to 1901, while 2 piers date to 1874. Pier #3 was built fall of 2011 as a replacement to the pier that collapsed.
The span was lifted back into place Nov. 3rd 2011, and was opened on Nov. 11 2011 (11-11-11)
The only other thing that is not part of the authentic bridge is the wood span over the highway. That replaced a Steel Girder span, which was built 1948.
Another unique thing about this bridge is, almost everyone in that area knows about it! People were very upset when demolition came up after the pier collapsed.
The design of this bridge is from east to west:
4 Spans Trestle
2-90' Deck Plate Girder Spans
8 Spans high Trestle
1 Non-authentic span over the road
4 Spans Trestle
Everything appears to have once been ballasted deck.
There is a great vantage point at this bridge. It is an overlook in Red Jacket Park. Or if you go up on the bluffs, and you can find a spot without trees, that would be cool.
Another is from the banks on either side of the river, or from highway 66.
The photo above is looking from MN-66 in October 2013.