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Royal Gorge construction workers begin to build up what 2013 wildfire burned down

By: Jesse Paul, jesse.paul@gazette.com
January 31, 2014 Updated: February 1, 2014 at 7:14 am
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Mike Bandera, vice president and general manager of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, kicks off a ceremony Friday to mark groundbreaking on a project to rebuild the popular tourist attraction. About 90 percent of the park was destroyed by wildfire last summer.

The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is rising from the ashes.

On Friday, crews broke ground on a project to rebuild the popular Canon City tourist attraction, which was devastated by a wildfire that ignited on June 11 and scorched more than 3,000 acres over roughly a week. About 90 percent of the park was destroyed, including the aerial tram. The iconic bridge, however, remained standing, although it sustained substantial damage.

The groundbreaking puts the park on its way to a planned limited reopening on March 15 that will allow for guided weekend tours.

"Basically, it's been a combination of seven long months of demolition, planning, architecture and permits," said Mike Bandera, general manager of the attraction. "We start coming out of the ground in the next two weeks with three buildings."

About 80 dignitaries, including the Fremont County Commissioners and members of Canon City's City Council, attended Friday's event to support one of the first major steps in the reopening of one of the region's biggest economic contributors.

Park officials estimate that about 300,000 visitors and $9 million were lost because of the fire. In the days after the blaze began, the park laid off 150 seasonal workers; another two dozen full-time workers were let go in December.

"The objective with all this planning and so on was to reflect the resiliency of the region and the spirit of Colorado," Bandera said.

The park is planning an August opening of Phase I of the project, which includes a new visitors center, aerial tram and several other attractions.

"It was very emotional, heart-wrenching to watch," Bandera said of both the wildfire and Friday's groundbreaking. -

Contact Jesse Paul at 476-4809. Twitter @JesseAPaul.

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