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Free to good home: Century-old bridge spanning the Arkansas River near Cañon City

Martin Marietta needs a new bridge to its gravel mine. But first it has to find a home for the historic 20-ton Parkdale Bridge

An empty gravel truck rolls across the Parkdale Bridge over the Arkansas River on its way to the Martin Marietta quarry Dec. 9, 2020. Fremont County leaders are hoping to find a new home for the bridge, free to the right taker. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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CAÑON CITY — Need a bridge? If so, the century-old single-lane Parkdale Bridge that spans the Arkansas River is free for the taking.

All you need is a trailer capable of carrying the 20-ton, 100-foot-long structure from the eastern edge of Bighorn Sheep Canyon along curvy U.S. 50 to where you want to put it.

Why would you want a narrow old bridge with industrial-looking trusses? Perhaps to bridge a creek or gully on ranchland. Maybe for use as a pedestrian bridge. Or maybe simply to preserve a funky piece of Fremont County history.

The no-real-strings-attached offer comes from Martin Marietta Materials, which is replacing the aging bridge to provide better and safer access to the Parkdale Quarry it operates about 15 miles west of Cañon City.

“It was once identified as having some historical significance,” said Michael Sheahan, general manager of the company’s Southern Aggregates division. “Rather than just scrap it, we thought we’d try to save it and let someone use it in original form somewhere else.”

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The company placed an ad in the Cañon City Daily Record that has run daily in recent weeks and will continue through the month. As of late last week, three inquiries had come in from people living in Fremont County and all seemed genuinely interested.

Sheahan said the company will listen to all proposals, and while it is not putting any conditions on the giveaway it will give priority to takers who plan to retain the bridge’s historical value. Preferably in Fremont County.

That value seems to have more to do with the bridge’s structure than its location or who might have used it.

It was likely built in 1915, before U.S. 50 went through that area, said Carol McNew, from the Fremont County Historical Society.

The Parkdale Bridge, looking south toward U.S. 50 in Fremont County. The 105-year-old Warren pony truss bridge — the last one in the state — is being replaced. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

It is the only riveted Warren pony truss bridge remaining in the state, according to a state-produced pamphlet called “Driving Tours of Historic Bridges,” she said. Simply, a pony truss bridge has triangular trusses that rise above the roadbed but do not connect across the bridge.

It was often called the Harvey Bridge because it provided access to the Harvey Ranch, McNew said. It also provided access to a former Rio Grande Western Railroad depot, and in the 1930s there was a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Parkdale.

The bridge sits below Cactus Mountain, which, when lost, explorer Zebulon Pike climbed in 1806 and was relieved to be able to see he was not far from the Eastern Plains, she said.

Past its prime

Now about 100 vehicles a day pass over the narrow bridge, mostly quarry workers and supply trucks and in the summer, Echo Canyon River Expeditions staff and customers. Sheahan said 98% of the aggregate extracted from the quarry is shipped out via railroad.

Although the bridge is owned by Fremont County, Martin Marietta assumed maintenance of the bridge under its quarry permit, Sheahan said. So, when state inspectors said the structure needed some upgrades and reinforcements, the company considered its options.

Repairs would have been costly and they still would have had a 35-foot-wide, one-lane bridge with limited capacity. A new bridge was the better answer.

Replacing a bridge over a U.S. waterway usually involves the Army Corps of Engineers, which determined that the Parkdale Bridge was eligible for the National Historic Register. That meant involving some state and local entities to ensure history was preserved.

The Parkdale Bridge, about 100 feet long and nearly 14 feet wide, is being replaced and the county has joined forces with Martin Marietta, the Colorado Historical Society, and the Army Corps of Engineers to give the span away for free to the right taker. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

In this case, a memorandum of agreement between the parties lays out how that will be done: Martin Marietta will produce a brochure on the history of the bridge and travel through the area and make it available in print and digitally. The Fremont County Heritage Commission will produce a scale-model of the bridge and document its current state in photographs, and Martin Marietta will attempt to find someone to preserve the bridge in some way.

Martin Marietta is paying for the new bridge, which it expects to cost $2 million to $3 million. The company is providing some engineering and project management, and a contractor to do the work, Sheahan said.

It’s a great deal for Fremont County, said administrator Sunny Bryant, who noted that repair or replacement of the bridge was not a high priority for the county because it carries so little traffic.

“They have not asked us for anything,” she said, and County Road 157 and the bridge still will be county-owned. “It’s helping them out. It would be many, many years before we would get to where we could replace that.”

She said the county considered whether it could reuse the bridge but decided the cost of moving and installing it was prohibitive. “In the end, you still have an old bridge,” she said.

Jim Nelson of the Heritage Commission said relocating the bridge to the county’s Pathfinder Park was discussed, but “unless somebody steps forward with a lot of money that’s not going to happen.”

Where and when?

Site preparation work will begin this month and construction of half of the new bridge is expected to begin in January – it will provide access to the quarry until the old bridge is removed and second half built.

Timing is critical, Sheahan said, because they want to remove the old bridge and a concrete pier beneath it while the water is at its lowest – before spring runoff begins.

The entire project should be completed by June, which works well with Echo Canyon Rafting’s season, said General Manager Ben Sack.

He said Martin Marietta talked with them early on to discuss construction schedules and what would be least disruptive to them. He’s also pleased that the familiar old bridge might find a new home rather than be sold for scrap.

“It has that old industrial look with huge heavy rivets,” he said. “It would make a nice pedestrian-type bridge.

“I’ve floated under it many times as a raft guide and driven over it many times. But it does have safety issues. It’s incredibly narrow – we’ve folded in more than one mirror on vans and buses.”

Sheahan said interested parties have until the end of the year to get in on the bridge giveaway. There’s no formal application process, but people or organizations must prove they can transport the bridge and say how they intend to use it.

He expects the contractor will be ready to remove the old bridge, using a crane to lift it from its foundation and put it on a flatbed provided by the recipient, in early spring.

It comes as-is with no warranty.

“We’ve just got to find somebody with some place to put it.”

Interested in the bridge? Here’s the contact info: Michael Sheahan at 303-591-6725 or Michael.sheahan@martinmarietta.com

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