This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Two years ago, a wayward ranch hand drove a tractor onto the historic suspension bridge crossing the Green River at Browns Park. His journey to the other side was cut short when the overweight vehicle punched through the wooden decking.
No one has driven across the 62-year-old structure since, disrupting mobility in this remote northwest corner of Colorado and cutting it off from the Uinta Basin in Utah. Colorado officials have developed a $1.5 million fix for the Browns Park Swinging Bridge, and are hoping Utah will pony up a piece.
The out-of-state location of the bridge has complicated the request, but at least two Utah counties are willing to give state money to the repair job.
For the rural communities where Utah, Colorado and Wyoming come together, the Browns Park bridge spanning the Green River just a mile into Colorado is more than a piece of history, according to Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen.
"That bridge makes access better. It has real significance for tourism. A lot of river travelers and hunters in all three states use that area," said Chew.
The bridge links northeast Utah with Colorado's Moffat County, enabling hunters and ranchers to reach otherwise inaccessible areas or it did before the summer of 2014, when the tractor damaged the decking, rendering it unsafe to cross.
Proposed fixes includes upgrading its load capacity to 15 tons, strong enough to support a wildland firefighting truck with a fully loaded water tank.
Rural Moffat County responsible for the upkeep of the 320-foot bridge can't fully fund the upgrade, so officials in Daggett and Uintah counties believe Utah should kick something toward the job.
Utah's Six County Infrastructure Coalition, of which Uintah and Daggett are a part, is seeking a $100,000 grant from the state's Community Impact Board (CIB) for the project.
The bridge project "is out of state so we are not sure it would qualify," said Ralph Okerlund, executive director of the county coalition. "If we can't get CIB funding, we will do everything we can to help that project because it is important to agriculture, it is important to energy, it is important to recreational users."
Moffat County is leveraging an insurance settlement and federal highway dollars to line up grants from various federal, private and state sources. Participants include the Bureau of Land Management; Colorado State Land Board; Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and its Colorado counterpart; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns the bridge; a local ranch; Questar; and a river outfitter.
This diversity of funding sources reflect the broad importance of the bridge, Okerlund said. Without the bridge, people have to drive up to two hours, depending on weather, to cross upriver at Taylor Flat.
"From a sportsman's standpoint, it is more valuable to Utah than Colorado for access to public lands and water fowl. For a small investment in that bridge, the benefit is significant," Daggett County Commissioner Jack Lytle said.
The bridge is at the halfway point on what would be the 50-mile run on Browns Park Road from the Jones Hole Road outside Vernal to U.S. Highway 191 north of Dutch John. From the south, Brown Park Road enters Colorado and crosses the bridge on County Road 83, which Ts into Colorado State Highway 318. This road heads west back into Utah where it again takes the name Browns Park Road.
Swinging bridges are a type of suspension bridge where thick cables are anchored into the earth on either side of the spanned chasm. Towers hold up the cables at either end, allowing them to drape just above deck level. A series of drop cables supports the decking off these main cables.
The bridges are a fading part of the nation's rural transportation network, relics of a time when counties used locally available materials and knowhow to solve civil-engineering challenges. For decades, these spans provided essential passage across stream gorges Chew can recall a time, prior to the 1964 completion of Flaming Gorge Dam, when Browns Park was the only way across the Green. But many are now being lost to fire, neglect and obsolescence.
Browns Park is one of only two remaining functional swinging bridges in Colorado. The other crosses Royal Gorge 900 feet above the Arkansas River. Utah lost its historic Dewey Bridge, spanning the Colorado north of Moab, when a young boy playing with matches sparked a grass fire that spread to the bridge's decking in 2008. That bridge had been retired since 1988 after it was replaced with a modern structure, but its destruction was a blow to Grand County residents who long enjoyed this bridge from the present to the region's colorful past.
The Browns Park bridge, which is inside the Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, was built by ranchers for moving livestock. Completed in 1928, the original structure did not perform well in the wind and had to be rebuilt in 1954, at a total cost of $20,000. It has since been upgraded in 1972, 1984 and 2010, when the anchors were replaced. But even before the 2014 accident that crippled the bridge, Colorado highway officials prioritized it for upgrading. The accident pushed up the time table.
Its capacity was rated at 3.5 tons, enough to support say a F-350 pickup or 200 sheep. Oddly the sign posted at its approach stated the weight limit was 6 tons.
The Browns Park bridge is only 10 feet wide and could sway as a vehicle crossed. The repair project will replace the wooden decking, beams, stringers, hanger cables and guard rail, quadrupling its load capacity to 14 tons. The approaches will also be upgraded.