Still Standing Tall 2013-2014
The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park stood unscathed in the mist of its beautiful surroundings of the granite gorge, and the pinion and cedar tree-landscape dotted by abundant wildlife until Tuesday, June 11, 2013, when a wildfire raged into the park. One of Colorado’s premier attractions, entertaining millions of guests for 85 years since 1929, was devastated by the Royal Gorge Fire. Just about everything in the 360-acre park, except America’s Highest Suspension Bridge, was destroyed.
Around 1 p.m. on that afternoon, a wildfire started west of the Royal Gorge Bridge and it soon became apparent that 1,200 guests and employees needed to evacuate immediately when the fire jumped to the “other side” of the towering 1,000-foot walls of the Royal Gorge. Not one life was lost and no injuries were reported.
Four days later the fire was declared contained. It had burned 3,218 acres, 2,156 acres of the Royal Gorge Park belonging to the City of Canon City, 501 acres of BLM land, and 561 acres of private property.
Ninety percent of the park was gone with 48 out of 52 buildings and world class attractions destroyed on each side of the bridge. During this time, the Royal Gorge Bridge stood majestically above the rubble and was relatively unscathed except for approximately 100 boards that were scorched on the south side of the Bridge.
The 9,600-sq. ft. Visitor Center lay in ashes. The Aerial Tram, one of the world’s longest single-span trams, was burnt almost beyond recognition hung precariously in its dock. Among the casualties were the Incline Railway, one of the world’s steepest, and a much beloved attraction since 1931, an antique Carousel, and a new Zipline that raced 1,400 feet across the side of the canyon walls. Railroad Engine 499 on display in the park survived but lost its caboose.
The Mountain Man Trading Post town was leveled. The Western Wapiti Wildlife Park containing over 60 head of animals, including Elk, Bighorn Sheep, a White buffalo herd, and pack horses, was left miraculously untouched except for the barns. No animals suffered injury and all survived. In the midst of the turmoil a white baby bull calf was born the following Saturday, June 16, and was promptly named “Smokey.” A true blessing.
The rebuild was underway almost a week after the fire when architectural firms were called in to bid on the massive project. Demolition took almost 5 months, and the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the new Visitor Center and beginnings of a new park took place January 31, 2014, when the bridge turned 85 years old. A little over a year since the fire started, the park was opened, but more importantly, “We Still Stand Tall.”