HUSAR: Saukenauk suspension bridge provides thrills for generations

Posted: Sep. 6, 2012 8:22 pm Updated: Nov. 29, 2012 9:15 pm


Unless you're involved in Scouting, you may not realize the 600-acre Saukenauk Scout Reservation in northern Adams County is home to one of Western Illinois' most spectacular attractions.

It's a 384-foot-long pedestrian footbridge that hangs by steel cables 40 feet above a finger of a man-made lake.

Ever since it was built in 1955 as part of the lake's construction, the suspension bridge has thrilled thousands of youths and adults who have ventured across the narrow, swinging pathway.

Sturdy cables line both sides of the bridge so adventurers have something to hold onto as they creep across the swaying span.

When the wind is gusting, or when a devilish hiker is purposely rocking the floor from side to side, the bridge can provide some exciting moments for the squeamish.

Gary Mertz, Scout executive in the Quincy office of the Mississippi Valley Council, Boy Scouts of America, agrees the suspension bridge is an engineering marvel and one of the most impressive and enjoyable features of Saukenauk.

"I don't know of any other (Boy Scout) council throughout the United States that has anything like it," Mertz said.

Mike Turner, Saukenauk's ranger for the past 10 years, agrees the suspension bridge is a favorite attraction for hundreds of youths and adults who visit the camp each year.

"They all get a big kick out of it," he said. "It's one of those things that makes Saukenauk a little unique."

Saukenauk, which stands for "place of the Saukees" -- a reference to the Native Americans who once inhabited this area -- harks back to 1952 when the heavily wooded site five miles east of Lima was identified for a future Scout camp. The Quincy Kiwanis Club donated $20,000 to buy the land, which was eventually turned over to the Saukee Area Council.

In 1953, plans were developed to form a lake by building a 550-foot-long dam, more than 30 feet high, to impound the water from two merging creeks. Ground was broken for the dam project in November 1953.

W.H. Klingner & Associates, a well-known Quincy engineering firm, took a lead role in designing the dam and developing the lake in cooperation with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service.

William Klingner, who headed the engineering firm, also happened to be a longtime local supporter of Scouting. He personally drew up the plans to construct a suspension bridge across one finger of the future lake.

Engineering records at Klingner & Associates show Klingner designed the bridge in 1954, and it was built in 1955 by Rose Construction Co. at a cost of $3,625.

Concrete piers for the bridge were erected before the future lake bed was flooded. The main support cables -- 7/8-inch in diameter -- were later strung in a manner inspired by San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

Klingner's idea was to provide easier access for Scouts who wanted to camp or hike on the other side of the lake. But he also thought the bridge would be a fun attraction for youths and adults visiting Saukenauk.

Klingner, who died in 1999, was given a Silver Beaver Award in 1966 -- the highest honor bestowed by the Boy Scouts. The award recognized his outstanding volunteer services to Scouting.

Klingner's son, Mike Klingner, now president of Klingner & Associates, said his father was proud of the award and pleased he could help make Saukenauk a sterling attraction for future generations.

"I think it meant a lot to him that he had an opportunity to work on something like that and to help kids," he said.