BISMARCK, N.D. — A group fighting to preserve a century-old North Dakota railroad bridge is forming a nonprofit to potentially take over the structure and connect it to a trail system.

Nearly 70 people unanimously voted Tuesday to form Friends of the Rail Bridge to possibly take ownership of the BNSF Railway bridge over the Missouri River in Bismarck, the Bismarck Tribune reported .

BNSF Railway has considered replacing the structure that has been part of the Bismarck-Mandan skyline for more than 130 years.

“BNSF’s preferred alternative is to build a new bridge and remove the existing structure given the challenges that exist with allowing the current bridge to remain,” said Amy McBeth, regional director of public affairs for BNSF Railway.

Susan Wefald has helped lead efforts to preserve the bridge. She said the group has discussed the bridge’s history, engineering and preservation.

“One of the main advantages of having this organization now is to have anyone who’s concerned and interested in this project to be able to come together to share all their thoughts and information and what they’re finding out about this bridge and be able to share in a common forum,” Wefald said.

Wefald said Friends of the Rail Bridge would use the bridge as a path to connect recreational trails on the river’s east and west banks. The group intends to seek a fiscal sponsorship from the North Dakota Community Foundation.

Working groups of Friends of the Rail Bridge are expected to meet next month to discuss issues such as promotion, bylaws and writing to local leaders.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said the group must apply to officially be a nonprofit. Application steps include registering as a charitable organization and contacting the IRS regarding tax exemption.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com