MAQUOKETA, Iowa (CBS News) — What to do with an old bridge after a replacement is built?
The easy answer is to demolish it. But near the Quad Cities, they’re not thinking easy – they’re thinking bison. CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar took us out to the Mighty Mississippi in this story for CBS News.
Chad Pregracke is not one for small or conventional ideas, and he is trying to drum up support for his latest.
Pregracke’s has spent the last two decades aboard barges cleaning up rivers for his Living Lands and Waters Foundation. But home is along the Mississippi.
And if he gets his way, bison may roam high above the river on the Interstate 80 bridge where Illinois meets Iowa.
Pregracke: “This might sound crazy, but I actually want the westbound lane dedicated to a small herd of bison.”
De Mar: “What would that do for this area?”
Pregracke: People would stop – I mean, right now, people are just, 42,000 cars a day are going over that bridge – and they’re just going.”
The 55-year-old bridge is on its last legs and is scheduled to be replaced. Demolishing the bridge will cost millions.
Pregracke wants to raise money to turn the bridge into a national monument where bison can wander from one state to the other, and people can stop and maybe stay a while.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois) agrees it would be great for her district.
“Chad’s coming to this project the day dynamite is set to blow up the old bridge,” Bustos said. “He’s thinking five, six years out.”
Bustos even pitched the idea to members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet.
“I have made sure that Pete Buttigieg as the Secretary of Transportation knows about the Bison Bridge,” Bustos said. “We want the bison bridge to be the Mount Rushmore of this region, or St. Louis Arch of this region.”
“There were 60 million bison roaming in North America at one time, and then they were decimated down to 3,000,” Pregracke said. “The bison bridge would celebrate the history of the land, but also because it’s one-of-a-kind, I feel like it’s forward-thinking as well.”
Dan Palmer raises bison in Maquoketa, Iowa. We took a ride to see his herd as he stood with 60 to 65 bison cows.
“They need all the help they can get, both financially and support of it,” Palmer said of the bison bridge.
He is so confident in the project that he is putting money and some of his bison behind Pregracke.
Palmer: “If anyone can get it done, Chad can get it done.”
De Mar: “People who say Chad is crazy – what do you say to those people?”
Palmer: “Come up with a better idea. It’s going to be great for the Quad Cities, and it’s going to be a healthy attraction.”
Pregracke added: “Would you stop if you were going to see bison on a bridge? You know, I think most people would.”
His perspective may be different from the Iowan Palmer’s, as he said, “There’s more land to graze over here than there is in Iowa.”
Bit his vision is clear.