HOUGHTON, Mich. (WJMN) – Bridgefest 2022 kicked off on Friday with a ceremony celebrating the Portage Lake Lift Bridge’s official designation as a National Civil Engineering Historic Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The ceremony recognized Michigan Tech graduate students Emma Beachy, EIT, and Michael Prast, P.E., who completed the application process to have the bridge recognized under the supervision of Michigan Tech professor Tess Ahlborn.

“It’s really special to see this bridge recognized in this way and to see everybody so excited about it,” Beachy said. “Because as structural and civil engineers, it’s cool to us because we know all the nuts and bolts of it and it’s like this visual representation of our profession. But to see that the community appreciates it as well and is interested in hearing all the fun facts that we found is really special.”

“It’s kind of nice to see everybody come out and appreciate it because so many people cross the bridge every day and may not even think about it anymore, especially if they grew up here,” Prast said. “It’s just a bridge, you know, but it’s kind of nice to be able to hopefully, maybe open their eyes a little bit and see that it’s a really cool bridge. It’s actually really unique in the country. And honestly, there’s a bigger turnout here of community members than we thought, because it’s always nice to have some of the officials here, but it’s really special when the community comes by, because that’s when you know that you’re doing something kind of important.”

While the application was originally finalized in 2019, the ceremony had been put on hold following Bridgefest’s cancelation in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To be considered by ASCE, the bridge had to meet the criteria of being at least 50 years old, possessing unique features, and having contributed to the development of the civil engineering profession and the nation.

“It received the national historic Civil Engineering landmark award both at a state level, and now the national level, which is a pretty prestigious award,” said Andrew Rossell, ASCE-Michigan Section President. “So what that is is recognizing, as we heard here today, recognizing the importance of the civil engineering masterwork behind the bridge.”

The cities of Hancock and Houghton beth received commemorative plaques to display in honor of the recognition. State officials and dozens of local residents were in attendance to celebrate their communities.

“If you think about a bridge like this that was built in 1959, the engineering that went into building this structure is just amazing,” said Paul Ajegba, Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. “And it was completed in two years, even through the harsh winter. So I think it was something that’s worth celebrating.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the bridge’s history and what research went into the application, Beach and Prast will be a free presentation this weekend called “Going up since 1959: A history of the Portage Lake Crossing. The event will take place on Saturday, June 18, at 10 a.m. at the Finnish American Heritage Center in Hancock.

You can find a full schedule of events for Bridgefest 2022 here.