A new pedestrian bridge across the American River is still a big, bright bold idea.
And nearly 15 years after initial funding of $500,000 was pledged, the idea of spanning the river belowAuburn is gaining some renewed momentum.
Auburn’s environmental group Protect American River Canyons (PARC) is taking a lead.
A letter-writing campaign to State Parks officials has generated hundreds of pleas for consideration of a bridge and improved public access to the China Bar area.
Located off Auburn’s Maidu Drive, the China Bar area is in the Auburn State Recreation Area on land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by State Parks. It’s part of the site of the long-delayed Auburn dam and was once a river crossing, when the stretch of the waterway was underground, flowing through a diversion tunnel built during construction in the 1960s.
State Parks – in the midst of a revamp of its general plan for the Auburn State Recreation Area – is providing encouragement.
“This is a good time to really start pushing these discussions because we’re right in the middle of the general plan process,” said Gold Fields District Superintendent Jason De Wall. “We’re talking with the bureau and getting a lot of letters from the public on their desire for a bridge at China Bar.”
One of the potential roadblocks could be locating the bridge upstream from the dam site, De Wall said. A downstream siting would keep it out of a potential construction footprint, if the project was to restart.
“The idea is exciting but we have to be aware that it is a site for a dam,” De Wall said. De Wall added that it is too early in the process to identify a specific site and type of bridge. Costs are also unknown at this time, he added.
Deanna Marsh, a PARC board member, said that her organization is moving forward on a campaign to support the bridge with the knowledge that a connection is part of promised mitigation that evolved from work more than a decade ago to plug the diversion tunnel and put the river back into its original channel.
Before the river was “daylighted,” the overland crossing above the tunnel provided access from Cool and Auburn to the other communities on a system of trails and roads – about 7 miles each way.
“Other than the legal promise, there is so much usage by outdoor enthusiasts throughout the confluence area, Hidden Falls Regional Park and Lake Clementine, there’s a need to distribute people throughout the park in productive ways,” Marsh said.
A bridge could also provide better access down to river for emergency vehicles. Early bridge plans calls for a span 12 feet wide for emergency vehicles, as well as a pedestrian, equestrian and bike crossing, she said.
The PARC campaign reached out through social media to 3,000 people in interest groups.
“Almost without exception, it’s been all thumbs up,” Marsh said. “We’re seeing a lot of harmony and enthusiasm.”
One estimate pegs the cost of a bridge at about $4 million, including trail improvements, she said.
The math PARC is using is that the Auburn State Recreation Area now has about 1.25 million users a year.
“If they all donated one Starbuck’s drink at $3 we would have what we would need today – it’s not such a huge number after all,” Marsh said.
To read the original article in the Auburn Journal newspaper, CLICK HERE.