CANON CITY, Colo. - The Royal Gorge Fire turned its namesake Colorado landmark into a demolition site, destroying nearly 50 buildings at the once majestic park.
The fire started Tuesday June 11, near Cañon City and burned 3,218 acres of land covered with Piñon-Juniper and Sage brush. Fueled by high winds, the flames crossed the Arkansas River at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, a tourist attraction that boasts 26 million crossings of the famed bridge since its opening.
Picnic tables are now charred skeletons after the flames melted the plastic seating. The aerial tram, which was once bright red, is now a scorched metal shell and the terminals that housed it are gone. The famed incline railroad was damaged, but is still intact.
The suspension bridge, perhaps the most recognizable landmark in the park, survived with only damaged boards.
"We replaced about a hundred planks," said park employee Peggy Gair.
"When you got here days later and saw the bridge survived, how did that make you feel?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marc Stewart.
"It was one of the most patriotic moments," Gair said. "I know it sounds a little corny, but to see this bridge standing, it was like 'what man made is still standing.' It was just awesome."
Park managers say the goal is to replace as much as possible, including the animal figures on the damaged carrousel. The total price tag for the project will be at least $30 million, paid for by an insurance policy.
Park employee Larry Lallemand, who has worked there for over 40 years, is hopeful about the new park that will rise on the footprint of what was lost.
"I see it as being a lot more modernized," he said.
The goal is to open the bridge for vehicle traffic before the end of the year.
"The bridge will come back. The park will be open," said Gair.