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YANKTON | Might flying fish become a tourist attraction? How about the rare chance to walk across a historic river and back, between two states, on a double-decker bridge?

Those thoughts came to mind Thursday morning as I walked from downtown Yankton over to Nebraska, and back again, in less than an hour on the Meridian Bridge.

There is just something about this community that sets my mind going in strange directions.

Maybe it is the bridge, which was completed in 1924 for $1.1 million across the Missouri River.

The Meridian was a marvel of hope and engineering, with a lower deck for vehicles, an upper deck for a train line, and a center section that could be raised, using great counterweights, so that tall riverboats could pass.

The north-south railroad didn’t materialize. Riverboats and barges went poof after the Missouri was dammed a few decades later.

And the bridge itself deteriorated, through time and frugality, while autos increased and trucks grew heavier, making its narrow decks obsolete.

By 2001 the Nebraska Department of Roads concluded that demolition would be cheapest.

The cost for taking it down was estimated at $2.1 million, or about double what it cost to build. Rehabilitating it for restricted traffic would have cost three to four times as much as destroying it.

In the end, the Meridian became what must be one of our nation’s grandest pedestrian bridges. Waist-high fencing in a friendly green color and historic-style lighting fixtures, along with a few benches at spots, were added.

Take the upper deck with its higher arch and the distance is six-tenths of a mile “ground to ground.” Take the lower deck and the distance is three-tenths of a mile.

Of course you walk nearly as far on the lower route because you’re covering ground while the upper deck is rising above you.

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And on a warm June morning the shade from the upper deck can be welcome.

The Yankton side is city. The Nebraska side is woods. My sense is traffic mostly starts on the Yankton side and returns.

It would help to have kiosks on each side, and maybe some information stops on the bridge decks too, telling the story of Meridian Bridge.

It’s a story of one American dream.

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It’s also an opportunity to tell part of the story of the Missouri River.

The river was a thoroughfare that forever changed the Plains. A new culture displaced a traditional culture.

In turn the new culture changed the river by damming it. That changed nature and the traditional culture and the new culture.

Whether the dams will keep the flying carp at bay, I don’t know.

But somebody should figure out how to take people on boat tours to see these invaders.

They’re heading up the James River next.

What can be done to stop the invaders, I don’t know.

Now there’s a question to ask your political candidates this election season.

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Contact Bob Mercer at bobmercer2014@gmail.com. The opinions expressed by this freelance columnist are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Rapid City Journal.

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