Chad Pregrake, the founder of the Mississippi River clean-up organization, Living Lands & Waters, is heading for dry land to show you his plan on how to reintroduce Bison back to LeClaire, IA by repurposing an interstate bridge.
Once upon a time, both Illinois and Iowa were prairie landscapes where hundreds of thousands of American bison roamed free. Bison are a keystone species that are essential to maintaining the integrity of the food chain and plant life in the prairie biome.
However, due to overhunting and development, bison populations dropped to near zero at the end of the 1900s. It wasn’t long before the native prairie landscape was replaced by agricultural and industrial landscapes.
In an effort to reintroduce and grow the American bison population in the Midwest, one man is making it his personal mission to heard these animals home to their native grounds by repurposing a big piece of existing infrastructure — an interstate bridge.
As the Illinois Department of Transportation begins a preliminary study to replace the Interstate-80 Bridge, Living Lands & Waters’ Founder, Chad Pregracke, has one question: What will happen to the existing Interstate 80 bridge when a new replacement is built?
Pregracke wants YOUR help to transform it into the world’s longest man-made wildlife crossing for pedestrians…and bison.
THE HISTORY OF THE I-80 BRIDGE
Completed in 1966, the bridge connects Interstate 80 across the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities near LeClaire, Iowa, and Rapids City, Illinois. Now named the Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge, it carries an estimated 42,000 vehicles daily. In 2020, the Illinois Department of Transportation began a preliminary study to replace the bridge.
For over a decade, Chad Pregracke has waited for the opportunity to repurpose the I-80 bridge for locals and visitors to experience the beauty of the Mississippi River and the Quad Cities.
“I grew up in East Moline, Illinois, spending summers as a commercial mussel diver on the Mississippi River with my brother,” says Chad. “I’ve spent most of my life in the river with my Living Lands & Waters crew pulling trash out of the water. When I dreamed up this idea for repurposing the I-80 bridge, I realized I could help rewrite the river’s reputation in a new way. Repurposing infrastructure is a trend in the United States. What is deemed ‘old’ becomes ‘new,’ and in turn transforms and enhances the quality of life in these communities.”
And Mike Wolfe agrees! As a resident of LeClaire, he celebrates the long-term benefit of a project like has for his riverfront community. Mike has joined Chad’s team as vice president of the Bison Bridge Foundation.
“This is another project from the incredible mind of Chad Pregracke,” says Mike. “As long as I’ve known him, he has always had a passion for preserving the Mississippi River. It has been in his blood from an early age. Chad’s mission on and off the river has always been to have a conversation about its history and significance. His passion for the environment and his community is contagious. This project has the potential to bring the Quad Cities to the next level.”
HOW TO SEE THE BISON
The idea is to have the bison and community safely separated from one another. One side of the bridge will be repurposed for foot and bicycle traffic, and the other will be repurposed for wildlife crossings. The two sides of the bridge will be separated by a barrier that will allow for safe wildlife viewing for humans and safe passage for bison.
The foundation also plans to steward a small herd of American Bison to roam and live on the bridge as well as the 100 acres of grazing land located on the Illinois and Iowa sides of the river.
OBTAIN NATIONAL PARK STATUS
“The Bison Bridge is like no other currently in the United States, says Chad. “It’s a land bridge, consisting of wildlife and recreational crossing connecting the Illinois and Iowa riverfronts on the Mississippi River. We have the right team and with the right support, we hope to turn it into a National Park site for visitors to enjoy for generations.”
With over 42,000 cars a day traveling over the Mississippi on I-80, the Bison Bridge will attract locals and visitors alike for the chance to experience all the river and the region have to offer.
HOW YOU CAN HELP MAKE THE BISON BRIDGE A REALITY
In order to get the Bison Bridge project considered for approval by the State of Illinois, Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highways Administration, Chad, Mike, and the rest of the team need your support. Or better yet — your signature!
The goal of collecting 50,000 signatures will help Chad make his case to the Department of Transportation. Having signatures and letters of support will demonstrate that there is community involvement and support for the proposal to repurpose the I-80 bridge.
Securing a designation would create a public space on the Mississippi River for visitors to enjoy for generations.
Learn more and share your support at bisonbridge.org.
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