Local effort gives Carbondale’s Satank Bridge new life
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE – The 110-year old Satank Bridge, believed to be the last of its kind in Colorado, was at the center of a lively christening party on Thursday as Garfield County officials, contractors and a cadre of volunteers celebrated the completion of more than a decade’s worth of work.
A $900,000 project to reinforce the steel and install new decking and trim has put the bridge back in the pink. It spans the Roaring Fork River just north of Carbondale, downstream of the Highway 82 bridge and upstream of the Crystal River confluence.
The venerable bridge remains closed to vehicles to protect what Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson called “the historic flavor … the rustic, country-like feel” of the Satank community.
But hikers, bicyclists and other non-motorized travelers can now cross a bridge that for years had been rotting away in place.
Known for two decades as the “pink bridge” for its distinctive color, the iron and steel span across the Roaring Fork River is a Pratt “through-truss” design, one of several built on the Western Slope around the start of the 20th century.
The other similar bridges all failed for one reason or another, according to Carbondale Trustee John Hoffman, a key figure in the drive to save the Satank Bridge.
Thanks to the restoration project, the deterioration of this bridge has been halted.
“This bridge is going to be here for a while,” Hoffman predicted. “We created a bridge that’s going to stand, useful and proud, for the next hundred years.”
The original bridge, built by Garfield County in 1900 for $2,325, served as a vital connection linking Carbondale, the unincorporated community of Satank and the rest of the valley.
The bridge and its access road later declined in importance as more modern bridges were built nearby. One of its successors was the old iron bridge that once stood to the east of Highway 133. Its abutments are still visible on the banks of the river.
In its day, the old Satank Bridge carried horse-and-buggy rigs, early vintage autos, fire wagons and coal trucks from the old Thompson Creek mines, according to a brief history recited by Garfield County Commissioner John Martin at the ceremony.
Larry White of Carbondale, who worked for Garfield County Road and Bridge, remembers putting down new bridge decking, tightening up the bolts holding the top spans together and making other repairs in the 1970s.
By 1990, the bridge had become a relic, which drew the attention of filmmakers who came to the valley that year to make the movie, “Flashback,” starring Dennis Hopper. The movie makers had the bridge painted orange for its starring role, a color that quickly faded to a pinkish tint, according to former Garfield County Road and Bridge worker Larry White of Carbondale.
“I’ve got a lot of memories with this bridge,” White said wistfully.
But “pink” didn’t help the structure, and by 1994, the county commissioners declared the bridge to be unsafe. They closed it to all traffic, even joggers and bicyclists, with large barricades. Within a few years, the bridge was in danger of collapsing into the river.
But Hoffman, a blacksmith by trade, was unwilling to let the relic bridge fall to pieces.
With the help of a dedicated crew of volunteers, state historical professionals and the town of Carbondale, he began in 1998 to try to raise the money to fix the old bridge and at least make it useable for pedestrian traffic.
By 2002, Hoffman said, “one engineer gave it three years before it failed.”
In 2008, when the county commissioners learned that the largely volunteer rehabilitation effort was foundering, the county government took over the project.
Within two years, the money was in hand, including grants of roughly $400,000 each from the Colorado Historical Fund and Garfield County, and the work began.
The new bridge has 98 percent of its original iron and steel components, said the project’s structural engineer, Dan Beltzer of Loris and Associates of Lafayette, who attended the christening Thursday. All of the wood components are new Douglas fir from Oregon, Beltzer added.
The reconstruction project went very well, said county engineer Jeff Nelson. “No injuries, no accidents, smooth as silk,” he said.
“I’m so glad to see that they’ve saved this structure,” said White, who still lives in Carbondale.
“We wanted to preserve it, not only for the future … but for all of the ghosts that have crossed this bridge,” added Martin.
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