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Nelson name lives on with grant for pedestrian bridge

A new pedestrian bridge to be built just downstream of this old railroad trestle will be named after David and Rita Nelson to recognize their lead gift of $500,000.

A $500,000 grant from a charitable fund established with the largest gift in the history of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region will help pay for construction of a new bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the Fox River Power canal near downtown Appleton.

The Appleton Common Council Wednesday officially accepted the grant for the walkway between the future Ellen Kort Peace Park and Pullman’s restaurant from the David L. and Rita E. 
Nelson Family Fund, established within the Community Foundation with an estate gift of more than $100 million.

The late David and Rita Nelson

David Nelson was the former chief financial officer for both The Post-Crescent in Appleton and the Green Bay Press Gazette and an investor in radio stations and other businesses. His wife, Rita, retired as a teacher with the De Pere School District in 1992 but continued to serve as a substitute teacher into her 80s. Both died in 2017. He was 96 and she was 93.

The council also voted to name the newly constructed 750-foot bicycle and pedestrian bridge in honor of David and Rita Nelson to recognize the lead gift.

“This naming recognition provides a lasting tribute for a couple whose charitable legacy will boost important, signature projects throughout the Fox Valley for many years to come,” says Curt Detjen, Community Foundation president and CEO.

The Nelson Family Fund also awarded the lead gift to the river crossing boardwalk being built connecting Little Chute to Kaukauna.

Plans originally called for conversion of an existing Appleton railroad trestle, but an engineering study found the underwater structure is deteriorated to the point that renovation would cost $1 million more than replacement, according to Dean Gazza, director of parks and facilities in Appleton. The new trestle will be just downstream from the old railroad trestle. It has not been decided when or if the old trestle will be removed.

The total project cost is estimated at $2.8 million, with $300,000 coming from a Greenways Committee grant from Outagamie County, from compensation paid for an electric transmission line built in the county. Construction is to begin in 2021 and conclude in 2022.

The proposal must still gain approvals from several state and federal government regulators. The bridge will be part of a network of trails in the old industrial flats and downtown that the city is calling the Heritage Hydro Trailway. Construction is under way for another river crossing on an old railroad trestle at Lawe Street.

Who were the Nelsons? Learn more about the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund and find out more about this couple here.

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