Spanning an approximately 300-foot drop into the Uncompahgre gorge, the bridge has been under construction since July 2010. The dedication begins at 11 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 26 at the bridge pullout, two miles south of Ouray on Highway 550. Ouray Mayor Bob Risch will speak on behalf of the city, and several Ouray County Commissioners will offer remarks. Don Paulson, curator of the Ouray County Historical Museum, will speak about “Otto Mears, Pathfinder of the San Juans.” The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Ouray County Historical Society organized this event, which is open to the public.
In 1881, Mears built the toll road between Ouray and Silverton that comprised part of what is known as the Million Dollar Highway. His tollbooth was located near the new Bear Creek Falls Bridge, and two other versions that preceded it. Mears completed many other toll roads, and built two railroads in Ouray County. In 1926, The Silverton Standard raised the money to place the marker in his honor at the site of his Bear Creek toll Booth.
The Mears Monument has endured several displacements due to bridge improvements. In 1963, the monument was damaged during bridge renovation, and was absent from the site for nearly a decade. Last year, it was again removed from its home during construction, and temporarily resided outside the Ouray County Historical Museum. It has returned to the Bear Creek Falls Bridge in much-improved condition.
Daren Hinton, of Mountain View Surfaces in Palisade, repaired the area where a large piece of granite had broken off in 1963. Snyder-Grand Valley Memorials of Grand Junction did the engraving work on the repaired portion. American Civil Constructors, Inc., a contractor to CDOT, and Speedy’s Concrete in Ouray each donated $100 toward the repair work.
Paulson also thanks Dan Fossey, the City of Ouray Public Works Director, and Ed Witherspoon, Public Works Supervisor, for transporting the massive piece – which weighs over half a ton – between Palisade and Ouray. Curtis Gemaehlich, director for ACC, also was instrumental in accomplishing the transportation and repair work.
The new, wider Bear Creek Falls Bridge replaces a 44-year-old bridge that was nearing the end of its service life. The project also improved the parking area off the north end of the bridge and includes a pedestrian overlook that affords visitors a better view of the falls, according to CDOT.
Although the bridge remains toll-free, Otto Mears would probably approve.