Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Dog Days of Summer

Not every creature is stirring, but there's lots going on this summer along our local Appleton waterway, the Fox River. I've put up a couple posts over the years about the river and its relationship to Appleton's history, and about the dilapidated series of locks and dams which are being rehabilitated so that boat traffic might resume after a 20+ year hiatus. One of the newly-resurrected locks (Appleton lock #4) is right across the river from my back yard, and although boat traffic has not yet been allowed to restart, we expect to see new life on the river sometime yet before the season is over. Additional work on the locks continues this summer, moving downstream from the downtown region, which was the focus of summer, '07.

There are a couple other projects underway along our river. The first (a direct offshoot of the rehab of the locks) involves the land adjacent to Appleton lock #4. An abandoned factory sits on a several-acre condemned site here, and after many attempts and false starts a developer has purchased the land and is planning an ambitious development of retail and residential spaces on the site. We actually looked into the condos there, examining the promise of the same (or better) water location we currently enjoy but with a fraction of the upkeep required of our 138-year-old house. We decided to stay put, but the amenities being promised to the new residents are, after all, only a stone's throw from our place. So we're rather excited about that. At the very least we'll have a front row view of the construction.

The other involves a major new bridge, a big construction project that runs right over the top of the condo / retail site. The main thoroughfare thru Appleton is College Avenue, which crosses the Fox River via a bridge built in (I believe) 1952. College Ave. is four-lane on both sides of the two-lane bridge, making for a continuous bottleneck on Appleton's busiest city street. That fact, plus a discovery of a structural malady in an identically-constructed span somewhere in Wisconsin caused the powers that be to replace the bridge now. After a couple brief budget-related delays, the closure of the old bridge is now slated for mid-August.

So I decided I should get some pictures of the landscape as it currently is, since things will soon enough change and I'll quickly forget how things were for my first ten years here. I remember the big construction projects in downtown Minneapolis when the Target Arena was put in. This coincided with the continuation of interstate 394 into the heart of the city, plus the construction of three huge parking ramps; so an awful lot of real estate--streets and factories and warehouses and bridges--got demolished and moved and rerouted in this process. I was driving a bus thru the downtown six or eight times a day during this period, and these changes came to seem a bit surreal. I used to walk every day thru the heart of this region, as I parked my car at the bus garage and then walked downtown to take over my route. And I spent a lot of time watching the vast construction sites--I even took to showing up early to have more time to watch. These streets and buildings were like bedrock, like mountains and lakes and rivers; they were the things that remained the same year after year as more superficial things changed around them. And now here THOSE things were changing and it was like having ones feet pulled out from under one somehow.

Well, Appleton's not a very big place, and this part of it doesn't amount to so much, but it's still a pretty big change for us, especially when we live so close to both projects.

So--answering the question nobody asked--here are some photos of how things are now. (The photos of the construction site were all taken from the bridge--another reason to get some pictures now before I'm denied access.)

(The approach to the bridge Eastbound.)

(About 1/3 of the way across, Eastbound. There's a gentle curve to the bridge.)

(East side now, looking West.)

(Underneath, facing West, approaching the construction site.)

(Facing West and Northwest. This photo and the one above were taken at the same spot, with me standing under the bridge and just pivoting a bit. The factory site is just visible in the right border of the picture above.)

(Back facing East; the staircase from the bridge down.)

(The construction site seen from the bridge. The bulk of the building here will be torn down, and the new complex will be on the land behind it. To the right just out of the frame is a defunct hydro-electric generating plant which is being refurbished and will generate all power used in the new complex. Cool.)

(All these pics were taken with the new iPhone, which struggles a bit with some colors. A preponderance of a single color--blue sky, say--seems to pull the rest of the picture in that direction.)


Malaise Inc said...

The picture of the lock reminds me of the locks on the Barge Canal (successor to the Erie Canal). I had a cousin that lived near the canal that I used to hang with some during the summer and we would occasionally go to the locks and watch them work. I also used to ride my bike on the path along the canal. Good memories.

wunelle said...

These locks are pretty small, designed to accommodate the small steam vessels from a hundred years ago.

My blog partner Jeffy's office is on the Mississippi near one of their much larger locks. And those are doubles as well--ours are all singles.

I used to have flying layovers up in Sault Ste. Marie, and would drive into town and watch the ore boats going thru the locks there. It defies belief to see something that huge rising and falling in front of you!

Malaise Inc said...

You know, as I think about it, when I was a child, our annual vacation was up at the 1000 Islands on the St. Lawrence River. Never in all that time did I ever get to go to one of the locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway. I would imagine the same ore freighters could have gone through those too. Next time I am up that way, I think I am going to carve out a day to go sit at one of those locks and just watch.

wunelle said...

I'm just mesmerized by all these infrastructure-ish things: bridges and roadways and railroads and construction sites and so on.

Proof that you never really grow up!

Jon said...

Very similar to watching the ore boats go underneath the lift bridge in Duluth. About the time that they were underneath the bridge, they would blow the horn and just about make you fall in to the water. Something about being interested in something bigger than ourselves.

wunelle said...

Given the size of our local locks, not too much bigger than myself!

Jeffy said...

Love your photos - are they from the new iPhone? I don't see any shots that show what the locks are there for. Are there rapids or falls in the river, or just dams to regulate flow?

My kids and I love heading down to the 'boat elevator' near my office to watch the river and the barges go by. It is great to have some of the tallest locks on the Mississippi withing walking distance. Unfortunately, the Army Corp of Engineers has had staff cut-backs and the spiffy visitor center for the locks has been closed for several years.

One of the neatest things about locks is how very little energy to use. There is no need to expend much energy to lift the ships since the water can just be allowed to flow into the lock on its own, and then allowed to flow out when you want to lower a ship.

We'll be taking a family trip through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in a couple of weeks, and will be sure to stop by and check out the locks at Sault Ste. Marie.

wunelle said...

The river is divided into channels for power generation, for navigation, and the rest for flow control. In the midst of summer when there's not much rainfall, only the power generation and navigation channels have much water in them; the rest might be nearly dry.

Because of that, the locks and their corresponding dams are often not exactly co-located along the Fox. In the case of Lock #4, the dam is a quarter mile or more upstream from the lock, and the navigation channel extends around the side of the dam and downstream to the lock.

(I looked for a picture of the two together, but I can't really get one without a boat.)

shrimplate said...

I used to visit the Hudson locks near Schuylerville when I was living in New York. They too are small compared to the behemoths on the St. Lawrence, and from the looks of your photos I would guess they are from a similar era as the locks you have pictured.

Anyways, alongside the "modern" locks that were less that a hundred years old, we could explore the even older ones that had been abandoned and replaced. Those predated electricity and were opened/closed using manual or animal power. Amazing engineering.

wunelle said...

All our locks are manual in operation. The valves to fill and drain are operated by big crank wheels or levers on both ends (several from which to choose), and the doors are opened, one at a time, by big levers on a treadmill--the operator walks in a circle pushing this four foot pipe!

A little dance ensues for any single operator (I've seen two people operate the lock, too, which is easy and quick), moving from valve to door, and then back to the closed doors to run across to the other side and get THAT door. The first Neenah lock also has a drawbridge for foot traffic--also entirely manual--which must be worked into the dance.