From Here to There:

High Trestle
Trail Bridge
Public Art

Polk County Conservation Commission
Madrid, IA
Completion date
April 2011

From Here to There: High Trestle Trail Bridge represents a tour de force in the combination and coordination of art, architecture and engineering. The bridge, over a half mile long spanning the Des Moines River Valley, connects more than 600 miles of trail in central Iowa and has emerged as a destination icon and cultural landmark. 

Located in Madrid, Iowa, From Here to There: High Trestle Trail Bridge, is both a physical and symbolic connection to the fifth longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in the country. The "portals" or vertical elements that form a gateway to the bridge are sculptural symbols that speak to geology - the cutting and slicing of nature that forms this river valley. Seen from a distance, they become destination icons and bracket the experience of crossing the river on this expansive trail bridge. 

Scale is one of the most important elements in the integration of these sculptural features: they must relate in size not only to the length of the span - more than 2,300 feet across the river - but also the height above the river valley, represented by massive columns, some nearly 130 feet tall. These icons visually focus the trail and evoke the concept of entering a mine. 

Seams of coal appear in lighted veins in the stacked forms on the bridge landings. One is inside the story, surrounded by sculptural forms that embody history and geology. The changing geometry of the steel cribbing radiates around you. The viewer moves along the path as though moving through history, through the tunnel of a mine, while blue LED fixtures highlight the inside faces of each crib. 

Public Art

Based on the coal mining history and geology of the area, this site-specific installation creates a meaningful art-in-transit experience and sculptural icon for people from across the country. The project is both a physical and a symbolic connection to the fifth-longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in the country. 


One of the primary considerations of the commission was to design and create a destination with the potential of becoming a new cultural landmark, growing a larger audience to use the trail network. The project has been recognized as a major contribution to regional economic development, with an additional 15- to 20,000 people per month traveling to the local communities on both sides of the bridge. New restaurants, historic restoration, and a variety of other related improvements have accompanied the project with the development of related themes.

Engineering design could have successfully taken people from point to point; however, it was the story embodied in the purposeful integration of the architectural structure that captured people’s imagination and created a relevant experience. Scale and context were encouraged over narrative text panels.

The artwork takes into account many factors and functions on many levels, expressively using materials to interpret history. Lighting is also a significant factor, thoughtful of the site as it changes from day to night, as well as extending the usage of the trail and bridge. The installation is now the keystone that unites five distinct communities along the trail.


The project began with extensive research to develop design options that were vetted through a series of public presentations. Public input was an important part of the project, with RDG acting as a facilitator in each community along the trail. These on-site workshops galvanized support in relation to the heritage of the Italian immigrants that worked in the mines and whose families still live throughout the area. The multi-disciplinary design team collaborated in numerous charrettes between artists, engineers, architects, lighting designers, owners and the public. As the site-specific concept evolved, the collaboration proved critical in testing related engineering, budget and solving a myriad of details. Without this collaboration, the necessary dialogue would not have taken place.

A project of this magnitude is a matter of relationship building. While every great project may begin with a great story, this installation grew, and the story became more important as each discipline and agency became more involved in the process. Ultimately, it is through collaboration that the public was welcomed into the story and has continued to share it with others.

Additional Design Details

State-of-the-art technology was used to communicate the design intent, including a virtual reality video of riding across the bridge. This was instrumental in securing the largest state economic development grant to date, as well as successful private fundraising. Because substantial funding came from the Iowa Department of Transportation, the project had to comply with numerous code applications, including having all welds inspected, outside of the railing at over 130 feet above the river valley. As part of the state initiative on health, the installation is regularly programmed with events including 12 monthly “Rides of the Full Moon” that feature picnics on the bridge.

Gold Award of Excellence: Film/Video — Documentary
The Communicator Awards
Voted: Best Bike Trail
DM City View Magazine
Top 100 Video
Sectional Lighting Award
Iowa/ Minnesota Illuminating Engineering Society
National Lighting — Award of Merit
Illuminating Engineering Society of North America
"Year in Review" Listing of Top 50 Art Projects
Public Art Network
Product Innovation Award
Architectural SSL Magazine
Excellence in Design Merit Award
AIA Iowa Chapter