A major construction project on the combined portion of US Highways 151, 61 and 52 in the Dubuque area is posing a hazard to canoeists and kayakers.
Earlier this spring, the Iowa Department of Transportation started a construction project spanning more than a mile, from the intersection of US Highways 151/61/52 and Twin Valley Road in the Key West area to South Grandview Avenue overpass.
A good portion of this stretch of road is a bridge that passes over Catfish Creek. That waterway flows through the Mines of Spain state recreation area, where paddlers can put their canoes and kayaks into the water and travel either downstream to the Mississippi River or upstream toward the bridge.
It's the upstream movement that is making Mines of Spain and Iowa DOT officials nervous. They say bridge construction could mean falling debris and want paddlers far from anywhere it might land.
Hugh Holak is the DOT engineer overseeing the construction project. He said paddlers should stay at least 100 feet back from the bridge and construction.
Mines of Spain park ranger Wayne Buchholtz agrees.
"They're dismantling the bridge, so there's concrete, and even, I guess, when possibly they're not working, there's still that chance of something vibrating loose," Buchholtz said. "We've still got traffic going over on what used to be the northbound lanes."
He said there's still plenty of space to paddle without going near the bridge.
"They still have about a mile and a half that they can paddle, and because it's backwaters, there's no coasting back downstream, you've got to paddle back to where you came from because there's no current," Buchholtz said.
Bridge demolition started last week, Holak said, and construction of the new lanes will begin in several weeks, so this falling debris hazard is valid throughout the construction project. Work halts in the winter but picks back up in the spring of 2014, at which time the paddling hazards will resume.
Holak said the DOT will be putting signs along the Catfish Creeks banks later this week, warning paddlers to steer clear of the construction site.
Paddlers haven't always been able to get as far as the bridge, but high levels on the Mississippi River, which sends more water up the area, mixed with a deepened creek channel thanks to the heavy rains of late July 2011, are allowing paddlers to go farther upstream than they normally can.
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