Bridges to nowhere: Trail projects pan old span over Maroon Creek
August 16, 2010
ASPEN – The former Maroon Creek pedestrian bridge, a $1 million span that was disassembled five years ago with the expectation that the individual pieces would be reused in other projects, hasn’t exactly won the hearts and minds of local trail designers.
The bridge, actually made of eight, 82-foot sections, was erected over the Maroon Creek gorge next to Highway 82 as a temporary crossing, pending construction of the new highway bridge, which includes a bike/pedestrian lane.
It was in place for a decade before crews took it apart and carted it away in late 2005 – a process that involved closing the highway bridge in the middle of night so the bridge sections could be hoisted onto trailers.
The goal was reuse of the individual segments in other trail projects where a river or stream crossing required installation of a bridge.
Basalt wound up finding a use for four of the pieces for the Willits bike/pedestrian bridge across the Roaring Fork River near Emma. The town painted the steel bridge green.
Pitkin County, owner of the remaining four segments, has built several trail projects that required bridges. The old Maroon Creek bridge pieces, however, have been passed over in favor of brand new spans.
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“Those bridge pieces are not turning out to be highly reusable,” said Dale Will, director of the county’s Open Space and Trails Program. “I don’t know if we’re going to find a use for them in the valley or not.”
The spans can’t be cut apart, but must be used in 82-foot increments, according to Will. It has been nearly as cost effective to build a new span as to use the old pieces, he said.
In some cases, though, the problem is that the bridge pieces are considered, well, ugly.
One Aspen resident, lauding the pending removal of the bridge from the Maroon Creek gorge in a letter to the editor back in 2005, suggested the span might be “the most hideous and prominent structure built in Aspen since the mining era.”
Nonetheless, the county was prepared to use one of pieces on the Brush Creek Trail near Snowmass Village in 2006. Until, that is, the Snowmass Town Council balked at the aesthetics and said a railroad-style bridge was not appropriate at the town’s entrance. The town wound up chipping in about $90,000 to get a bridge it liked.
Pitkin County eschewed using one of the old sections on the newly opened segment of the Crystal Valley Trail because the length of the span didn’t work, according to Will. At least one county commissioner, though, hinted the attractive new span that was incorporated into that project was preferable anyway.
Now, plans to upgrade part of the Rio Grande Trail near Woody Creek, providing paved and soft-surface alignments, will require a bridge over the creek. The $1.2 million project includes a new bridge, which may cost $20,000 to $25,000 more than incorporating one of the old pieces, said Gary Tennenbaum, Open Space and Trails land steward.
The county may, however, find a use for one or two pieces of the old span at Lazy Glen, where there’s a plan to connect the trailer park to the Rio Grande Trail on the opposite side of the Roaring Fork River. Since it’s not a highly visible spot, the aesthetic issue may not wrinkle noses, Will said.
At present, one piece of the old bridge sits in the tall grass next to the Brush Creek intercept lot; three others are in storage in Carbondale.
During a recent discussion about the planned Woody Creek project, members of the Open Space and Trails board of trustees suggested the county look for buyers of the bridge pieces if the county doesn’t intend to use them.
“It’s like your favorite old car that you’re going to fix except you never have the time or the money,” said Tim McFlynn, board chairman.
Their highest value may be in the sale of the steel as scrap, Tennenbaum said.
“Eventually, those bridges might wind up being recycled rather than reused,” Will agreed.