"I think we've really stumbled onto something here."
-- Ron Payne, mayor of Owensboro, Kentucky
Imagine if Cape Girardeau officials spontaneously decided to hold an event and 12,000 people showed up.
That was the situation recently in Owensboro, Kentucky, when state and city leaders decided on a whim to allow people to walk across the large "Blue Bridge" across the Ohio River in the city's downtown. The bridge, a classic steel structure built in 1940, had been closed during the summer for rehabilitation. The work was completed a few days ahead of schedule, allowing the opportunity to throw open the bridge to foot traffic before it was reopened to cars.
Thanks to the beautiful weather, a massive crowd -- estimated between 10,000 and 12,000 people -- walked across the bridge, a tremendous turnout for an event that had only been announced a few days prior.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Owensboro-ians, and tourists from elsewhere, to stroll across the river without dodging cars.
Or maybe not. The turnout was so overwhelming that the mayor of Owensboro wants to turn "Bridge Day" into an annual festival to be held on a weekend during the fall.
Good for them. But we shouldn't let Owensboro have all the fun. We have plenty of bridges over the Mississippi River that are even more spectacular and could provide the settings for other successful "Bridge Days."
Take, for example, our own Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge. The north half of the bridge could be limited to pedestrians for a day, while the other half could still carry traffic. This would provide grand views of downtown Cape Girardeau.
Cairo, Illinois, is also sitting on a goldmine: bridges over the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The bridge over the Mississippi has been closed to traffic for months, making it the perfect setting for a bridge festival. The sister bridge over the Ohio River has been closed on and off this summer, so one more closure wouldn't be the end of the world. Why not pick a day and let people walk across both bridges? Cairo could use all the tourism and marketing help it can get.
Brookport, Illinois, is the home to a bridge over the Ohio River with an open grate deck. If that bridge were thrown open to pedestrians, it would be possible to walk across and look straight down at the water below. That would be quite a rush.
Let's not forget about the bridge at Chester, Illinois. The view from that bridge would be awe-inspiring. I'm sure some smart person could find a tie-in between the bridge and Popeye.
Successful events don't always require large budgets or extensive planning. Owensboro has shown that a spur-of-the-moment decision can pay big dividends. Let's not be bashful about stealing their idea!