Pedestrian bridge being added to Lincoln’s Wilderness Park this summer

May 30, 2024, noon ·

Wilderness Park
A former railroad bridge in Lincoln's Wilderness Park is being renovated this summer for pedestrian use. Half of the total project cost is being covered by grant funding. (Scott Koperski, Nebraska Public Media)

Lincoln’s largest park is being upgraded this summer with a pedestrian bridge to improve accessibility.

Wilderness Park in southwest Lincoln stretches from Van Dorn Street south to Saltillo Road and covers more than 1,400 acres. The park straddles Salt Creek, with limited ability to cross the waterway.

A dilapidated railroad bridge lies in the center of the park near the Rock Island Trail. The bridge hasn’t been maintained and does not have railings, though that’s about to change.

Wilderness Park
Wilderness Park (Lincoln Parks and Recreation illustration)

Work began to overhaul the bridge this week, and two existing trails west of the bridge will closed until the fall as the bridge is renovated for pedestrian use.

“Included in the project is just under a quarter mile of soft surface trail that will be on the former rail line,” said Allison Speicher, Trails and Natural Resources Coordinator for Lincoln Parks and Recreation. “In addition to the soft surface trail, there's a railroad bridge that will be retrofitted to be a pedestrian bridge. They’ll remove the existing timber deck and use a durable concrete deck. We’ll be adding railings to the bridge to open it up to pedestrian use.”

The project will ultimately extend the Rock Island Trail west into Wilderness Park.

The work area will be marked with an orange construction fence, and park visitors are asked to avoid the bridge and work areas during the construction. Renovating the bridge was one component of a master plan for the park put into place three years ago.

“The project was identified as a priority in the Wilderness Park user experience master plan in 2021,” Speicher said. “That process included gathering input from the public about priorities for the park. This is kind of the next phase of that. It was identified in that 2021 master plan and the city put together a grant proposal to Nebraska Game and Parks for a land and conservation fund grant.”

Speicher said the grant will fund 50% of the $621,000 project, with additional support from the Great Plains Trail Network, the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District, and with proceeds raised from the "Run for the Bridges" event.

Once completed, Speicher said the bridge will be a great addition to the park that visitors will enjoy.

“It’ll be a good vantage point to see Salt Creek and be ADA accessible, so I think this will be a great addition to get people out and enjoy Wilderness Park,” Speicher said “We’re just really excited to add miles to the trail system and the park. We're hoping the public really enjoys it and we are appreciative of the support we’ve gotten.”

In the past four years, three bridges were installed in the Wilderness Park area, including a 350-foot bridge connecting the Rock Island and Jamaica north trails.

The park was initially established to serve as flood storage for Salt Creek and as a unique park experience for residents and visitors to Lincoln. The Park also serves as a conservation area and is home to a variety of plants and animals.

There are more than 30 miles of multi-use trails in Wilderness Park for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.