The Pueblo Chieftan

Ground broken at Royal Gorge rebuilding

CANON CITY — The ingenuity and resilience of mankind were lauded during groundbreaking ceremonies Friday as the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park begins rebuilding after a devastating fire leveled the majority of the tourist-attraction buildings.

The $22.8 million initial rebuilding phase will include a 16,000 square-foot visitor center, a $1 million zipline and a $3.5 million aerial tram. The project will replace buildings leveled by the June 11 Royal Gorge fire.

“When you look at the bridge, the ingenuity of mankind is everywhere and I think in the next seven to eight months you will see even more ingenuity,” said Harry Hargrave, Royal Gorge Bridge Company president.

Royal Gorge General Manager Mike Bandera said the groundbreaking showcased the resiliency and determination of those involved in helping the attraction bounce back from the most devastating event in the 85-year history of the bridge.

Canon City Councilman Kevin Ditmore said he grew up working at the bridge and held just about every summer job there, so he is “Happy to be involved in the rebuilding of the park.”

“This is going to be a fast project — we’ve got to get it open,” said Kip Daniel of the Beck Group, which is designing the park’s new look. “We are starting construction and drawings for the interior are just barely getting finished, so we will be doing construction and finishing drawings at the same time.”

In addition to construction, rehabilitation of the forest will begin next week when more than 23,000 pounds of seed are spread via a helicopter to revegetate the burn scar, Bandera said. A hydroaxe will be used to chip up dead trees and turn them into mulch.

Bandera said the new zipline will offer a thrill ride beyond the one that debuted a year ago.

“It’s called a ziprider and it will go 2,550 feet across the gorge, 1,200 feet above the Arkansas River at speeds of 40 miles per hour,” Bandera said. “We were able to move the tram over and so both the tram and the ziprider will occupy the same airspace we already own.”

The bridge will reopen for business on weekends starting March 15, with bus tours and Skycoaster rides. A full reopening is expected in August.

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