Royal Gorge Rebuilding Underway, Focus On Visitors
GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES
CANON CITY, Colo. (CBS4)– The rebuilding effort at one of Colorado’s most scenic attractions is underway just two months after a wildfire destroyed much of the Royal Gorge Park.
The famous suspension bridge over the Arkansas River appears to be in relatively good condition. A total of 32 of its 1,292 wooden planks are damaged.
“The bridge had about 100 timbers burned on that south end and no structural damage,” said Royal Gorge Bridge & Park General Manager Mike Bandera.
An aerial tram car and tram buildings on either side of the gorge were destroyed and the tram cable dropped into the canyon. An incline railway that descends 1,500 feet to the canyon floor is also damaged.
Rebuilding hasn’t started just yet because first crews have to clear away all the damage.
“Demolition has been going on every day, 48 structures were burned out of 52 so all those basically had to be cleaned up,” said Bandera.
Estimates to repair all the damage the fire that burned more than 3,000 acres in June total about $35 million.
The terminal and equipment room for the railway will have to be rebuilt. Demolition should last only a few more weeks then a major rebuilding effort will continue through the winter months.
“By mid-May we will have restored all of the basic attractions that have been here for years and several of the newer ones,” said Bandera.
There is one portion of the park that won’t be rebuilt.
“We’ve decided the wildlife park will not be a part of the new park and we have sold all the animals with the exception of the buffalo,” said Bandera.
The park brings in about $40 million in economic impact for the area.
“On top of the contractual obligation there’s a moral obligation to the area. It is the No. 1 tourist attraction in the Royal Gorge region,” said Bandera.
The Royal Gorge Bridge is the highest suspension bridge in the United States and the eighth highest in the world.
There is also mitigation in the area to bring back some of the vegetation lost in the fire. The burned trees will be broken down and used for mulch to prevent erosion.
The Royal Gorge Railroad continues to operate, as do rafting companies on the Arkansas River in the area.