The new Child Center Bridge, in Sparta, is complete, and scheduled to open tomorrow, on Friday, July 28th. Where the bridge stands, has a storied past and a vibrant present. From 1885 until 1976, Sparta had an orphanage, known as The Child Center. The new Child Center Bridge has been built at a place where the children once played. Today, this beautiful natural area is used by kayakers, snowmobiles, cross country skiers, snowshoers, golfers, walkers, and cyclists.
During golf season, it will be primarily used by paddlers and golfers, aside from the hours before and after golfing, when pedestrians and cyclists can pass without concern about being accidentally struck by stray golf balls.
The Child Center Bridge, located over the La Crosse River, between holes 10 and 11 on the River Run Golf Course, replaces a bridge that is at least 60 years old, the clearance of which was too low, both for area paddlers as well as flood waters. The new bridge was first dreamt up as a safer, more solid bridge in 2016, but the funds just were not available at that time.
In 2023, after securing a grant with the Snowmobile Trail Aids Program, Brad Gilbertson had some good news for The City of Sparta, Parks and Rec, and The Shovelmen: we could soon build our new bridge. The Kiwanis also stepped forward, with a very generous donation toward The Child Center Bridge, an important legacy, for a group that serves the children of the world.
The Shovelmen - Jim Cook, Al Jenkins, Jerry Kast, Reinhard Mueller, and Kerry Schumann, were ready for the challenge. They’d built six bridges already and had already gone over potential designs for this dream bridge, with city officials.
The design of The Child Center Bridge is an open air concept, to allow snow to fall upon it; ideal for our snowmobiles. This new bridge also allows plenty of clearance for paddlers, who have been enjoying watching the whole bridge building process from a unique vantage point: the rambling river below. Another important feature of the bridge is the abutments, which were designed in such a way, as to allow for another 12’ of flow area, in times of heavy rain and high water, improving the floodway in the area of the bridge, and thereby increasing safety and potentially reducing flood damage.
Mark the Date
A ribbon cutting and dedication is slated for 5:30 p.m., on August 22nd, when the public is invited to experience the bridge and support The Shovelmen. Watch The Shovelmen, River Run Golf Course, Sparta Parks and Rec, the Sparta Chamber Facebook pages, and this paper, for details coming soon.
When asked about general usage of the bridge and trails at River Run, Brad Gilbertson explained, “During the off season, the golf course is available for public use, walking, hiking, etc. There is a snowmobile trail that passes through the golf course. All snowmobiles must stay on the marked trail. During the golf season, which is typically April 15th – November 15th, (weather dependent) walkers are not allowed on the trails. Walkers, hikers, bicyclists are allowed on the trails once the golf course is closed for the season, or in the spring before we open. Golfers will golf in the rain and cold, we set our dates as the dates listed above, but they are weather dependent. If we have an early spring snow melt, we have opened early, as long as the course is dry, and the snow is melted. Likewise, we have kept the course open late, if the weather stays warm and we don’t have any snow.”
Official City Ordinance
Below is a copy of the city ordinance regarding the golf course.
Sec. 22-27. Golf course.
(a) No person shall engage in any activity, go upon or be present on the city golf course, defined as the areas of, and adjacent to, the tees, fairways, rough, and greens and those areas between greens and tee boxes unless such person has paid the appropriate green fees or permit fees therefor. No person shall use the golf course to enter Perch Lake to wade during such restricted periods. All persons on the golf course are required to check in with the starter and have their names listed on the starter sheet. Caddies are allowed on the golf course for special events but must have permission of the golf pro or parks and recreation director prior to the event. Any person physically unable to golf may receive special permission from the golf pro or parks and recreation director to accompany a golfer on the course for a fee of $1.00 per nine holes and they shall be so listed on the starter sheet.
(b) These restrictions do not apply to golf course maintenance personnel or others who have received permission to be present on the golf course for maintenance and installation of improvements to the golf course or to visit the former Wisconsin Child Care Center cemetery grounds located thereon.
(Prior Code, § 22.03)
The Men behind the Hearts
People who hear about The Shovelmen are amazed at what they do. While they are specialists in what they do, they are humble and insist that their formula can be reproduced anywhere, uplifting communities and building friendships. They listen to each other, encourage and egg each other on. They are willing to pick up a shovel and do what needs to be done without any fuss. They show up early and stay late, take breaks when they need to, and get the job done. They’ve built strong friendships in their journey as volunteers together, and have chosen “experiencism” over capitalism, refusing payment for their services. Instead, they take pride and joy in seeing people enjoying the things they’ve built together. Reinhard says, “I’m coining a new word, experiencism. It’s not the money, but the experiences that we take with us. No one can take that away from us. There is so much joy in seeing people utilizing the structures we’ve built, seeing a thousand people gather for a concert at Evans Bosshard, with full facilities, for example. Who wouldn’t want that wonderful feeling? It’s free!”
The Shovelmen, who organized into a nonprofit organization in 2022, seek to share this spirit of volunteerism through their book Bridging Communities, and also with increasing motivational and inspirational speaking engagements. The Shovelmen also seek to help individuals in the rehabilitation process who need to fulfill community service hours by giving them meaningful work that they can feel pride in doing for the community as part of the community. For more information, please visit www.theshovelmen.org
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