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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Arkansas/Little Arkansas R. Pedestrian Crossing At Wichita
Wichita, Kansas

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge

• Bridge: Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
• City: Wichita
• State: Kansas
• Country: USA
• Carries: Pedestrians
• Date Opened: Finished Jan 2007, Dedicated May 18, 2007
• Tower Height: 117 Feet
• Deck Width: 12 Feet-4 Inches, 10 Foot Wide Path
• Number Of Spans: 2 (Sequential)
 
South Bridge Structure
• Crosses: Arkansas River
• Total Length: 331 Feet
• Longest Span: 225 Feet (Estimated)
• Height Above Water: 18 Feet (Estimated)
 
North Bridge Structure
• Crosses: Little Arkansas River
• Total Length: 251 Feet
• Longest Span: 175 Feet (Estimated)
• Height Above Water: 14 Feet (Estimated)
In the early 1970s, cities across the nation built signature projects to celebrate the United States bicentennial. In Wichita, the city commissioners voted to fund the Mid-America All-Indian Center. The project was built at the confluence of the Arkansas River and the Little Arkansas River, a location that is considered to be a sacred site by Native Americans. Artist Blackbear Bosin, who happened to be of Native American heritage, designed a sculpture for the project and donated it to the city of Wichita. The 44 foot tall Keeper Of The Plains was made from COR-TEN steel and weighs 10,000 pounds. The sculpture was place at the confluence of the rivers facing east. The project was dedicated on May 18, 1974.

The city worked on a riverfront redevelopment plan during the 1980s. A master plan was adopted in 1989. In 1999, the Wichita River Corridor Improvement Plan was approved for a section of river known as the core area, and formal design work began. The city council approved a concept to raise the Keeper Of The Plains sculpture by 30 feet and install a pair of cable stayed bridges. Funding was approved in 2003, with construction of the bridges occurring in 2006. The two bridges were completed in January of 2007. An elaborate dedication celebration was held on the evening of May 18, 2007, 33 years to the day after the Keeper Of The Plains was originally dedicated. The celebration included a fireworks and light show that was set to music.

The project started by building a cofferdam around the site of the statue base. Sand was dredged from the river to build a causeway across 80% of each river channel. Next, the tower bases were built. The tower structure was fabricated off-site and brought in three sections, two legs and the top section was the cable anchor assembly. Installing the tower sections turned out to be a challenge since the tower is slanted 9 degrees off of vertical. The deck was precast off-site as a series of 32-foot long segments. The south bridge has 11 segments while the north span has 9 segments. Steel falsework was built to assist in assembling the deck. Segments were set on top of the falsework and then slid into position. The segments were bonded together using cables that run the length of the bridge. The cables were tightened slightly as each segment was installed, then the cables were stretched very tight in a process called post-tensioning after all the segments were in place. Once the deck was complete, the stay cables were installed. The cables are attached at the top of the tower using a round wedge that slides into a socket. The cables are attached to each side of the deck using adjustable anchors. As each cable was installed, a tool called a strand jack was used to pull the cable through the anchor, tightening it just enough to remove any slack. Once all the cables were installed, each cable was again jacked more tightly, lifting the bridge span off of the falsework. Once the deck was lifted, the falsework and sand causeway was removed.

The photo above is looking west from the south bank of the Arkansas River towards the two spans of the Keeper Of The Plains Bridge. The main channel of the Arkansas River is choked with grass, while the Little Arkansas River is backed up behind a low head dam just to the right of the statue. The river levels were especially low in 2011 due to a prolonged drought over the past 10 years that became especially severe over the summer.


Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
These two photos are views from along the south bank of the Arkansas River just east of the river crossing. The photo above is the south bridge span over the Arkansas River, while the photo below is the north bridge span over the Little Arkansas River. Kansas had pure blue sky for a week, but storm clouds moved into Wichita just as I arrived in town. The rain started falling within an hour after these photos were taken, and the rain fell for three days. This storm likely saved the winter wheat crop that had just been planted.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
These two photos are views from the north bank of the Arkansas River at the east end of the dam at the confluence of the Little Arkansas River. The photo above is looking southwest towards the south bridge span over the Arkansas River, while the photo below is looking west towards the north span over the Little Arkansas River.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is a wider view showing both bridge spans as seen from the south bank of the Arkansas River. The photo below is a similar view looking west from the north bank of the river. While the Arkansas River is nearly dry at this location, the Little Arkansas River has a few feet of water backed up behind the low head dam. The Little Arkansas has two bypass canals to divert water into the Arkansas River upstream of the confluence, and the larger Arkansas River has a flood control diversion channel that passes southwest of the city.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
These two photos, and the 24 that follow, focus on the south bridge span over the Arkansas River. The photo above is looking west towards the main tower of the south bridge span. The vantage point is the parking lot at Exploration Place, the science museum operated by Sedgwick County. The photo below is looking northwest down the east face of the structure.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
These two photos are views of the south end of the south bridge span. The photo above is looking northwest towards the bridge entrance, while the photo below is looking north-northwest.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is looking north down the length of the bridge deck from the Exploration Place parking lot. The photo below is from the south bridge abutment as we begin our journey crossing the bridge northbound.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is looking north down the length of the bridge deck from just south of the main bridge tower. The photo below is looking northwest across the Arkansas River, showing the dark accent piece on the upstream side of the bridge tower.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is looking upstream on the Arkansas River from the deck of the south bridge span. The highway bridge carries North Seneca Street over the Arkansas River. From this vantage point, we can see that the river is almost dry. The photo below is looking east from south bridge span towards the low head dam at the confluence of the Arkansas River and the Little Arkansas River.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is the view of the Keeper Of The Plains as seen from the south bridge structure, with the north bridge visible in the background. The photo below is a detail view of a light fixture on the bridge deck.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is the north end of the bridge deck of the south bridge span as it exists to the plaza area. The photo below is looking south down the length of the south bridge span from the plaza.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is looking southwest towards the south bridge structure from the rocks at the base of the statue. This is a difficult photo angle due to the bright midday sun in the south sky. The photo below is the bridge plate for the south bridge span.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is the south bridge abutment of the south bridge span. The stairway allows access to the trail running along the river from the parking area above. The photo below is the rock garden located under the bridge deck at the south bridge abutment.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
These two photos are views of the base of the south bridge tower. The photo above is from the same level as the bridge deck. The photo below is from the trail that passes under the bridge deck. While it is hard to see in these photos, there is a small pipe that keeps the deck from swinging between the two legs of the tower.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
These two photos are detail views of the top of the south bridge tower. The photo above is looking north from the bridge deck, while the photo below is looking towards the east face of the structure. It is apparent in this second photo how the asymmetry in the bridge results in the cable spacing to be different on each side of the tower.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
These two photos are views of a cable attachment to the deck of the south bridge span. The photo below shows one with a single light attached, while the photo below shows an attachment with two light fixtures.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is another view of a cable attachment as seen from the same level as the bridge deck. The photo below is the north abutment of the south bridge span. Workers are clearing weeds from under the bridge abutment on the day of my visit.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
These two photos, and the 20 that follow, focus on the north bridge span over the Little Arkansas River. These two views are looking to the northeast towards the north bridge span from the rocks at the base of the statue. The photo above is from near the bridge abutment, while the photo below is from the east end of the statue base.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is looking north towards the north bridge structure from the plaza as we approach the bridge crossing northbound. The photo below is a closer view of the south end of the north bridge span.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is looking north down the length of the north bridge span from the center of the Little Arkansas River channel. The photo below is looking upstream to the northwest along the river. The bridge carries West Central Avenue over the river. A dam located just upstream of the bridge is visible under the bridge deck.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is looking northwest towards the bridge railing near the north end of the north bridge structure. The photo below is approaching the north end of the north bridge span. There is a small plaza area at the north end of the bridge, with a parking area located just upstream of the bridge.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is the bridge plate for the north bridge structure. The photo below is the north entrance to the north bridge span.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is the north abutment of the north bridge span. The photo below is looking southwest across the Little Arkansas River towards the south abutment of the north bridge span.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is looking towards the east face of bridge deck over the main channel of the Little Arkansas River. The photo below is a close view of one of the stay cables.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is looking down from the bridge deck towards a cable attachment on the north bridge span. The photo below is looking up towards a cable attachment from the trail the passes under the north bridge span.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
These two photos are views of the top of the north bridge tower. The photo below is looking up from the bridge deck towards the cable anchor assembly. The photo below is looking towards the east side of the cable anchor.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
This is two views of the base of the north bridge tower. The photo above is looking northwest from near the low head dam at the confluence of the two rivers. The photo below is looking to the southwest from near the north bridge abutment.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is a closer view of the base of the north bridge tower from just upstream of the north bridge abutment. The photo below is a close view of the spacer between the bridge tower and bridge deck.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
These two photos, and the 16 that follow, focus on the plaza between the two bridge spans and views from the local trails. The photo above is looking north across the Arkansas River towards the Keeper Of The Plains sculpture. The south bridge span is to the left while the north bridge span is located behind the sculpture base. The photo below is looking west towards the statue from the riverfront near the Exploration Place building. There is normally water falling down the terrace of rocks at the base of the statue, but the river was too low to accommodate the water diversion.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is a close view of the back of the sculpture as seen from the deck of the south bridge structure. The photo below is a similar close view, but of south side of the statue. It is interesting to note how different the sky looks after only 30 minutes between these two photos.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo below is looking east down the length of the low head dam at the confluence of the two rivers as seen from the rocks at the base of the statue. One of the gas burners for the light display is visible on the right side of the photo. The photo below is a closer view of one of these gas burners.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is the entrance to the control center located in the base of the statue. The photo below is a look inside of the control center. The equipment in this room operates the bridge lights, the gas flame display, and the elevator that leads from the plaza to the trail that runs through the rocks at the base of the statue.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The gas flame display normally runs for about 15 minutes starting around 9:00 PM in the summer. However, the technician that was on duty was kind enough to light up the flames during my visit. The photo above shows three flames burning as we look south across the Little Arkansas River towards the base of the statue. The photo below is a close view of one of the flame burners with the Exploration Place science museum located in the background.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Here are two views of the fire pot located closest to the low head dam where the two rivers meet. The dam is in the background in the photo above, while downtown Wichita in the background of the photo below. Each fire pot puts out 1.4-million BTU per hour, about ten times that of a typical residential furnace. The city of Wichita has had a long string of problems with the fire pots and their electronic controls. They often have to light them manually with a flare. The company that designed the fire pots went out of business, so the city brought in a local boiler company in 2011 to help sort out the bugs.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is the marker from the dedication of the plaza in May, 2007. The photo below is the circle of life display on the plaza. The circle includes the four fundamental elements of air, water, fire, and earth. It also symbolizes the four seasons and the four compass points. A turtle shell is featured in the center to represent the Native American belief that we were all riding through the galactic sea on the back of a giant sea turtle.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
These two photos are two more displays that are featured on the plaza between the two bridge structures. The Mid-America All-Indian Center is located just west of the plaza. The location for the museum and statue were chosen due to the importance of this location to native tribes.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
Keeper Of The Plains Bridge
The photo above is a marker for the trail that runs along the north bank of the Little Arkansas River. Wichita has an extensive network of public trails with one running on each side of the rivers at this location. The photo below is a view of a decorative lighting fixture that is located along the Exploration Trail.

Keeper Of The Plains Bridge

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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