There’s a storied history behind Gypsum’s modest pedestrian bridge
Makeover project is latest chapter for structure that began its service in Denver and came to Gypsum in the aftermath of a tragedy
The modest makeover underway at the Gypsum Creek pedestrian bridge along U.S. Highway 6 in Gypsum probably draws only passing interest from passing motorists.
It will, of course, improve the visuals along Gypsum’s most-traveled roadway by removing aged chain link fencing in favor of more aesthetically pleasing steel handrails. The bridge has already been painted to match the nearby railroad underpass, covering up its faded green exterior.
All in all, it isn’t one of Gypsum’s larger public improvements. But the unostentatious structure has an interesting history to share. In many ways, it is a project that was ahead of its time. It’s one of the valley’s best municipal-scale examples of recycling and reusing. It’s an instance of sustainability before that goal became a government mantra.
Tragedy and necessity
Tragedy brought the bridge to Gypsum. Until it was replaced in 1999, the U.S. Highway 6 vehicle traffic bridge over the Eagle River in Gypsum was a two-lane, green arch structure similar to the one removed from the Dotsero area a few years ago.
On the evening of Oct. 25, 1991, Gypsum resident Tara Mactavish Palmer was out walking her dog across the bridge when she was struck and killed by a drunk driver.
Laurie Mactavish will never forget that night or the days that followed the accident that claimed her niece’s life. Brenna Palmer, Tara’s daughter, was just four months old. Mactavish recalled how Dr. Kent Petrie drove down to Gypsum to deliver infant formula and how the former pastor at First Lutheran Church, Jeff Hanson, spearheaded an effort to address the dangers pedestrians faced along the roadway.
“The community just really rallied,” said Mactavish. “I am still so grateful to the community for the support.”
In the aftermath of the accident, Gypsum residents launched a petition drive to pressure the Colorado Department of Transportation to construct a pedestrian crossing over the narrow bridge. Former Gypsum Mayor Dan Lister noted the community had been making that same request for years.
In a Oct. 31, 1991 story from the Eagle Valley Enterprise, Lister stated the project was not on CDOT’s five year plan. “All we can do is lobby hard with them or against them to get something done,” said Lister. Eventually, more than 1,000 local residents signed the CDOT petition.
But unbeknownst to town or state officials, there was a third action alternative available and they successfully exploited it. By talking to the newspaper, they found their solution.
Publicity does the trick
The Jan. 23, 1992 edition of the Eagle Valley Enterprise featured a front-page headline reading “Town to get free bridge.” According to the story, authored by Enterprise reporter Chris Cessna, an employee of Flatiron Structures in Boulder saw the news coverage in the Enterprise and came up with a solution. The company had been contracted to remove a pedestrian bridge that spanned Interstate 25 in Denver and was willing to ship the structure to Gypsum.
Long-time local resident Laurie Asmussen vividly remembers that announcement. She also vividly remembers the bridge at its original location, where it provided access to the former Mapleton High School campus. Both Laurie and her husband Al graduated from Mapleton.
Back when she was in high school, Asmussen said students would access commercial areas on the other side of I-25 via the pedestrian overpass. She also recalled lining up to take walking field trips, via the bridge, to the site of the Denver Broncos former training facility.
“I remember thinking, back when they announced they would be moving it, it was wonderful they were using our old high school bridge to address a community tragedy,” Asmussen said.
On the move
It took a few weeks to work out the logistics of the bridge move. A fundraising effort was organized to make the project happen and eventually crews from B&B Excavating built pylons in the Eagle River to support the structure. A special party was planned on April 27, 1992 to welcome the structure to town.
Two Denver firms — Transport International of Denver and Strick Trailer Leasing donated their services to bring the bridge segments to Gypsum. Colorado All-State Transportation actually hauled the load.
“With the largest segment weighing over 70,000 pounds and two small sections weighing at least 60,000 pounds, the bridge sections had to be lifted by crane from trucks and placed on wooden supports,” the Enterprise reported. “Flatiron-Prescon Structures, which is currently busy getting I-70 in Glenwood Canyon built, lent the town the use of a crane.”
It took a few months to get the bridge project completed, with the larger segment placed over the Eagle River. However, it only remained in service for less than a decade. When CDOT replaced the old two-lane traffic bridge with the current structure, pedestrian walkways were built on both sides of the new bridge.
Test of time
While the safety issue that prompted the bridge delivery from Denver was addressed more than 20 years ago, two pieces of the structure remain in service today.
As the 1992 newspaper story noted, the original bridge delivery included three segments and it only took two of them to span the Eagle River. The third segment was eventually placed over Gypsum Creek, just north of what is now identified as Turgeonville Park. For more than 20 years the pedestrian walkway looked pretty much like it did when it provided the path to Mapleton High.
“That bridge is in great shape. There is nothing wrong with it but we just thought the chain link was looking kind of dated and ratty,” said Gypsum Town Engineer Jim Hancock.
Hancock noted when the pedestrian bridge over the Eagle River was removed in 1999, the town brought it to their municipal public works yard.
“It sat up in our yard for years after 1999,” Hancock said. “Years ago, as one of my early projects for the town, we put it up again.”
The segment was placed to span Trail Gulch along the Eagle Valley Trail. Like the Gypsum Creek bridge, it remains in sound condition and gets regular use.
Hancock admitted that he didn’t know all the details of the bridge story, but as he spoke about the many lives of the former I-25 pedestrian overpass, it was easy to detect a note of pride in his voice.
“It’s still in service after all these years,” Hancock said. “And it’s kind of like Gypsum. We don’t throw anything away.”