A little more than a year after a devastating fire destroyed most of the buildings, the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is on its way to becoming bigger and better than ever before.
“The target (to open on a daily basis) is Aug. 28 for the north side (along with) the Skycoaster,” said General Manager and CEO Mike Bandera. “The (target for the) rest of it is October for the south side, including the new aerial tram, the zipline, the theater and those types of attractions.”
The incline is also on the list, but it will take between two to three years to complete, he said.
In the meantime, the Beck Group crews have designed the plans for the new park and are constructing a new 13,000-square-foot visitor’s center, which will replace the 9,600 square foot visitor’s center that burnt in the fire.
“The new visitors center (will consist of a) merchandise shop, a 212 seat restaurant, all of our ticketing area and video wall,” Bandera said. “We broke ground Jan. 31 with the target to have first phase open in August and the second phase in October.”
In conjunction, the mini train, which was not burned, will begin running on the north side of the park at the end of the month. He said next spring, almost everything will be reopened except the incline and the western town, and the wildlife park, which will not return.
“We’ll have quite a few nice elements the park has never had before, (which include) considerable more entertainment,” Bandera said. “Our goal is to be able to handle 400,000 people per year. We think we’re going to need that kind of capacity in this park.”
One of the new features will be the new tram, which is more like a gondola, he said.
“The gondola will be clustered together in sets of three,” Bandera said. “There will be two sets of three, holding 24 people in each. One’s going one way (while) the other one is going the other way. Each will dock (on different sides of the gorge) at the same time (to pick up and unload visitors). It’s a whole new look. They are all glassed in. Everybody is seated. It’s not like 36 people jammed in one little car (with) standing room only.”
In addition, the new zipline features new elements, as well.
“It will be running parallel to the tram all the way across the gorge,” Bandera said. “It’s going to be 2,300 feet (and) about 1,200 feet over the Arkansas River. They’ll be reaching speeds up to 50 miles per hour, zipping across. It’s twin racing ziplines.”
The next phase, which will begin shortly, will include a new children’s playground, a new carousel, play structures and a water feature. Also, a new merchandise shop will be added on the south side along with a brand new restaurant and the reconstruction of Juniper Junction, which is a picnic area for employees and a place for meetings.
“The third phase is our new 5,000-seat amphitheater,” Bandera said.
After the fire that started June 11, 2013, the renovation began with the demolition of the buildings and the removal of the tram that was hanging on the edge of the cliff. The cables, which were burnt in half, had fallen into the Arkansas River.
“We had a specialized cable company (Alpine Cable) in here immediately to start taking care of that,” Bandera said. “They also became the demolition company to remove all the debris. It took from (June) until November just to demo the park and get all of the debris out and clear it off.”
This spring, City of Canon City crews planted 28,000 pounds of grass seed and hydro-axed 99 percent of the blackened trees. Then the rains and snows came, which caused the grass to grow to help with erosion control, he said. Also, several groups helped the city plant 5,000 seedlings around the bridge with the goal of planting 5,000 more next spring, Bandera said.
Built in 1929, the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is celebrating its 85th year with the motto “Still Standing Tall.”
Currently, the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is open for guided tours on holidays and weekends; however, once the park is open, the hours will be from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.Aug. 28 through Labor Day then from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. seven days a week at 4218 CR3A. During the off season, the bridge, the theater and the tram will be open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, check the website at www.royalgorgebridge.com or call 719-275-7507.