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HISTORIC HAPPENINGS June 2011

Look of Landmark Bridge to Change Again
by Vicki Barker

A pack trail well-used over the years beneath Courthouse Wash Bridge is targeted for improvements within the year to attract mountain-bikers and other trail users to an ever-expanding spider-webbing system intended to support and encourage safer foot and bicycle traffic along major travel routes to scenic areas around Moab.

The trail that follows the tributary creek feeding into the Colorado River north of Moab is envisioned as a link to a larger trail system that is intended eventually to branch off near the valley entrance and offer options of following the Potash Road downriver or heading north to state Highway 313 and Dead Horse Point.

 
Courthouse Bridge Black and White Photo
Horse riders follow a Pack Creek Ranch pack-trip guide under
Courthouse Wash Bridge in 1989. Photo by Vicki Barker

Alternatively, users beginning at Courthouse Wash can fork left after passing under the bridge and walk or bicycle along another planned path leading to the bike bridge spanning the Colorado River and follow a new path that would branch off and shoulder Highway 191 to 500 West at the north end the city -- or choose a unique route paralleling the river road, Highway 128, as far as Negro Bill Canyon.

The proposed trail link, which borders Arches National Park on the north side of Highway 191, is "now known as the Courthouse Connector," said Lee Shenton, a county employee assigned to land-use issues involving the old Atlas uranium mill tailings cleanup site.

A sketch of the old bridge (circa 1960) by Dwain C. Barker. 
Courtesy of the Barker Family Estate.

 

A sketch of the old bridge (circa 1960) by Dwain C. Barker.
Courtesy of the Barker Family Estate.

It's a trail system requiring millions and millions of dollars and years to develop at a comparatively small cost to local residents, said Dave Olsen, Moab City planner.
"Grand County is doing really well for just a minute amount of money that we're putting in," Olsen said.
Among agencies involved have been the U.S. Department of Energy, the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Utah Department of Transportation, Moab city, Grand County, and private landowners. The segment proposed for the Potash Road, Highway 279, also required U.S. Department of Justice authorization for use of property adjacent to the mill tailings pile that was purchased from a private owner by the Grand Canyon Trust and deeded to the DOE for the purpose of developing the trail.

The land fell under the category of "restricted" when deeded over by the private nonprofit trust to the federal government, because it was within the vicinity of DOE's hazardous UMTRA (mill tailings removal project) site, and the "nature of the property" had to match the "nature of the mill site," said Shenton, county liaison to the DOE and UMTRA. Therefore, the U.S. Justice had to be petitioned by all the agencies supporting the plan for use of the land to develop a recreational trail. All those involved did their part, writing letters and making calls, and approval came in February.

Olsen said the section involving DOE lands is referred to under the working title of "Mill Site Riverside Trail."
In the process of developing the bike-and-pedestrian system, the landmark bridge spanning Courthouse Wash will again be replaced -- this time to widen the two-lane state road to four lanes. It is the first bridge encountered as motorists enter the Moab Valley.

UDOT replacement of the bridge is phase one of the project, and bids will be going out this year for that phase, Olsen said. Shenton said it should be completed at the latest by next spring.
The original bridge -- a steel truss structure measuring 16-by-101 feet -- served those accessing Moab from 1916 until it was replaced in 1934 by a wider concrete bridge, according to "A History of Grand County" (Utah Centennial series, 1996). Historian Ed Firmage noted in the book that the state approved a $1.6 million bid to reconstruct the bridge at Courthouse Wash in 1991.

Shenton said officials representing the various agencies involved in the Courthouse Connector trail proposal walked the route on a beautiful day and agreed it is a naturally gorgeous place to put a trail and develop a park-like setting near the bridge.

"We all recognized the trail is going to be attractive to Mom and Pop and the kids, and Grandma and Grandpa, because of the great setting and really easy ride," he said. "This is not hard-core for mountain-bikers; it is a community recreation trail…a rolling trail with no ups and downs. Really good quality."

Shenton said the trek with other officials that day was so inspirational he decided, "I'm going to have to get a mountain bike." And he did. From his wife, on Father's Day.

 

 
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