Accompanied by a snappy drum riff, members of the Pythons Drill Team marched across what’s billed as the only pedestrian bridge that spans an interstate highway and that was built specifically for people following national historic trails.
They were followed by representatives of the National Park Service, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Kansas City Council and others, all on hand Thursday morning to dedicate and traverse the Powder Mill Bridge across Interstate 435 along East Bannister Road.
National Park Service Superintendent Aaron Mahr said the bridge served as a reminder of Kansas City’s place in American history: With sections of the Oregon, California and Santa Fe trails, it’s one of two U.S. cities where three national historic trails begin or end. Mahr said he hails from the only other such place — Santa Fe, N.M.
The $1.5 million bridge was completed Nov. 30, MoDOT said, with funding from the 3-Trails Village Community Improvement District, MoDOT and a federal program. The dedication was scheduled to coincide with the National Park Service’s centennial celebration.
Travis Boley of the Oregon-California Trails Association said the bridge marks part of what will become more than 40 miles of historical retracement trail between Sugar Creek and Gardner in Johnson County. The trail isn’t expected to be completed for a few years.
Former Kansas City Councilman John Sharp said businesses such as bike rentals, wineries and cafes might open along the trail. It is “really going to be a tourist draw as we connect the dots,” he said.
Lou Austin of the 3-Trails Village district said the bridge was planned with economic development in mind.
“Walkability is probably one of the single biggest demands for consumers looking to relocate,” he said.
Austin said he thought the bridge’s name should be relevant to the community around it. Standing on the west side of the bridge, he peered south from beneath his black cowboy hat at where the Excelsior Powder Manufacturing Co. once stood.
The company started making explosive powder in the early 20th century. A Star article from 1906 noted that nearby residents “live in continual dread of a terrible death” should the plant detonate, and Excelsior Powder eventually left after a string of explosions.