RAPIDS CITY, Ill. — A group of university students, local lawmakers and community leaders participated in the Bison Bridge Foundation's first-ever workshop on June 14 to learn more about the potential project as well as give their own feedback and ideas to foundation leaders.
The all-day event began with presentations in LeClaire, on the barge owned and operated by foundation leader, Chad Pregracke, as part of his Living Lands and Waters organization.
From there, participants were able to take a bus tour up to the Mississippi Rapids Rest Stop near Rapids City, to overlook the I-80 bridge.
In spring 2021, the Bison Bridge Foundation proposed repurposing the current I-80 bridge into the world's longest wildlife crossing, with one half dedicated to bison and the other to pedestrians. All of it, says Pregracke, would be done without taxpayer money.
Since then, the foundation has received a $4 million donation and nearly 40,000 petition signatures in support of the project. On April 5, Illinois lawmakers passed a bill asking Gov. J.B. Pritzker and IDOT to include the bison bridge in the I-80 plans.
Tuesday's workshop was a chance for participants to learn more about what project leaders have in mind for the bridge and give their own feedback and comments.
One of the most important populations Pregracke said he wanted represented at the workshop was local university students.
"This is just to kind of get people thinking and honestly incorporating a lot of the college students is a really smart move. I mean, they're the people who are going to be using it the longest," Pregracke said.
And it wasn't a lost opportunity. Iowa State University senior David Kasbeer is studying landscape architecture. Over the past few years, he's made several trips over the I-80 bridge on his way to and from his home in Chicago and school.
"It always is just a not exciting drive. There's nothing to see. And this would add so much potential in the area. And it makes me actually want to go back to school a little more," Kasbeer said.
Another student in his program, Alexis Banks, grew up in Dubuque and said the project would be perfect for people even in that part of the state.
"It is really awesome to see this, and to think of this actually becoming a possible reality," Banks said. "To be a part of this as a student and in the coming years to look back and be like, I was a part of that and I had a say in that."
Now, the foundation hopes to host even more of these workshops over the next few months.
"At the end of the day it's a bridge about people and access from Illinois to Iowa, connecting the bike paths and something that will bring people from hopefully all over the country, all over the world to check out what a great place to Quad City is," Pregracke said.