McGilvray Road Truss Bridge Group

McGilvray Road is located in northwest La Crosse County, Wisconsin, in the Van Loon Wildlife Area. It is notable in that it is both historically significant and located within a rare floodplain forest.

Located on a former vehicular road is a unique combination of five rare bowstring arch truss bridges and one low truss bridge. They represent two styles of bridge construction popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These five remaining bowstring arch truss bridges are over 100 years old. The McGilvray Road Truss Bridge Group is listed on the Wisconsin State and National Registers of Historic Places. Entrance to the parking lot for the trail is located on Wisconsin Rustic Road #64.  The parking lot entrance address is N8327 Amsterdam Prairie Road, Holmen WI 54636. (Some on-line maps may label Amsterdam Prairie Road as County XX north of Hwy 35.)

The main channel of the Black River and tributary of the Mississippi River, had long blocked travel between the counties of La Crosse and Trempealeau before a Scottish immigrant, Alex McGilvray built his ferry in 1854. The existence of the ferry shortened the trip between La Crosse and Trempealeau County by eight miles. The La Crosse area on the east side of the Black is a marsh containing several secondary channels. What became known as McGilvray Road was made easier to travel by the construction of eight wooden bridges beginning in 1892. Five of the bridges were replaced from 1905 to 1908 by the present steel bridges designed by Charles Horton.

Since 1989 the McGilvray trail and bridges have been maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Friends of McGilvray Road.  Wisconsin State and National historical markers are located at the parking lot entrance.  There are no developed facilities at this site except for a picnic area, and parking lot and steps. The Van Loon Wildlife Area and trail is a popular hiking and recreation area.

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Location

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Nearby
Latitude: 44.013283 Longitude: -91.305848 Elevation: 707 ft

Hours Open

24 hours

Time Period Represented

Late 1800's and early 1900's

Seasons Open

All

Visitor Fees

None

Accessibility Notes

The trail is unpaved. It is basically level, but there are several steps down from the parking lot. The steps can be bypassed on a dirt maintenance path that has a grade of about eight%. There also are a few shallow dips in the trail where gravel has been placed over larger rock, and the surface is a little uneven.

Portions of the trail flood during infrequent periods of high water. The Friends of McGilvray Road website provides information on checking the river stage before visiting to determine what parts of the trail will be flooded. This can range from slightly wet to more than a couple of feet depending upon the river level. 

Pet Friendly Notes

The trail is a popular local dog walking area.  Owners must keep dogs on a leash from April 15 through July 31 and are encouraged to clean up after their pets.

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