The Swinging Bridge

No matter how many times I had done it, each time felt like the first and the inaugural step was always the scariest.

“Come on, you are so slow!” my brother, standing behind me, would yell. “What are you so scared of?”

I’d reach my hands out to grasp the ropes and place my right foot on the first flat board.

We weren’t necessarily up high and the water below us wasn’t necessarily that deep, but it was still a thrilling fright each and every time, as a child, I ventured onto The Swinging Bridge in Riverside Park at Neligh. We’d squeal with fear and delight and pure joy. It was wonderful.

Oh, how we loved (and temporarily hated) the famous Swinging Bridge. I capitalize the title as it is a proper noun because if you grew up in Antelope County you know exactly what it was, where it was and probably have a slew of memories generated by the contraption made of wooden planks, cables and rope.

The Swinging Bridge was a famous landmark at the Neligh Park. It spanned over the stretch of the Elkhorn River which ran along the edge of the beautiful green space we visited so often.

Well before I was born, The Swinging Bridge existed. It was the place we’d beg the folks to take us, even if playground equipment, the fair, a picnic, a trip to the pool and other fun things were waiting in the rest of Riverside. We always had to make a stop at The Swinging Bridge before anything else. It was a ritual.

Half the thrill was that we were defying our fears while really having a blast. The bridge felt flimsy and yet we were always safe. It certainly was a swinger – especially if the brothers were on board as they would get it swaying like nobody’s business. It was also a thrill to see the river flowing below us, through the gaps between boards.

Some summers, the river was shallow from drought and some summers it was so full of rainwater the park people would have to temporarily close off the Old Swinger just to be safe.

The thrill was making it all the way to the other side and again surviving the trip (even though we never perished or fell in after decades of swinging our way over). Once you made the first trip, then you could turn around and go back, to lounge in the middle in the saggy area. We’d let our legs dangle over the edges or maybe even lay on our backs to look up at the cottonwoods rustling against the blue summer sky while listening to the rippling river below us.

When we got older, we’d sometimes venture off to the bridge by ourselves and our friends. Occasionally a bunch of us girls would sit on the bridge and tell each other secrets; sometimes we’d show off to cute boys by hiding our fear and saying we enjoyed the swinging although we wanted to scream at the top of our lungs.

It was even a romantic spot one night, after a pavilion dance, with a special guy. The details of that moment will not be disclosed, but it has a forever space in the recesses of my mind – whew, that swaying kiss over the river still takes my breath away as I chuckle over my keyboard.

The Swinging Bridge was a special place to be alone, too. Sometimes it was just a spot to sit and be happy. Sometimes it was a place to stand and be sad. Other times it was just a place to take a moment, be part of nature and clear the mind.

My understanding was that the bridge was there 75 years (25 years longer than originally anticipated, when installed the builder swore it would last 50 years) — until flood waters destroyed it in June of 2010.

I’ve been in Neligh many times since and if I had time, I always took the moment to drive through the beautiful Riverside Park because of all the wonderful memories the place has created for me and so many. But it’s been sad to drive past where The Swinging Bridge once was – mostly because I couldn’t stop and reflect, as well as there was the realization another generation wasn’t enjoying what we had as kids and teenagers.

Well, it was with great excitement I saw this past week an article saying the beloved swinging bridge has been rebuilt! The story said a new, larger and handicap-accessible swinging bridge was built only a few feet away from where the previous, historic bridge had been located. And a dedication service was planned for the Fourth of July.

I asked my sister, Kelly, to run down to the park to take a photo of the bridge for me; she obliged. It certainly is more sturdy and I’m sure it meets all safety standards of today’s world – compared to the rickety, questionable version my generation so deeply loved in the 1970s and 1980s.

Thank you, thank you, thank you — to all who were responsible for the funds and effort put forward to reinstall a part of our childhood which will certainly enhance the childhoods and adulthoods of many more in the years to come. It’s so interesting how something as simple as The Swinging Bridge could create so many moments for so many . . . and now the tradition can continue.

Now, I just have to get back to Neligh and Antelope County as soon as possible, so I can head for Riverside Park, gasp as I make that first scary step, cross and then sit a spell with my legs dangling over the river. And maybe I’ll even swing a little.


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