Plans to renovate Fruita Bridge |

Plans to renovate Fruita Bridge

Heather Portenier
Special to the Free Press
M.J. Patterson was a well-known bridge engineer of his day. Only a few of his grand structures remain in Colorado now, however, including the historic Fruita Bridge. In a book released by the Colorado Department of Highways in 1986, titled “Historic Bridges of Colorado,” three bridges are listed in Mesa County: Fruita Bridge, Fifth Street Bridge and Black Bridge. |

Built in 1907 for $17,763, the Fruita Bridge is one of the few steel-through Parker truss bridges remaining associated with engineer M.J. Patterson. Concerned citizens are revamping efforts to save it, especially since it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Preserving architecture like this is priceless and culturally important,” said Lori Buck, Fruita’s mayor. “It contributes to our historical Fruita identity.”

Leading the current effort to save the bridge are Fruita residents Ken Henry, a former mayor, and Tom McNamara.

Henry, a Fruita resident since 1942, said the bridge is the reason he got involved in local politics. He wanted to preserve its historical integrity. But it wasn’t the only reason. He’s been actively involved with the Mesa County Riverfront Commission for 27 years.

“I’m a huge supporter of parks, trails and open space,” Henry said.


In the late 1890s, the only way to cross the Colorado River was to use a makeshift ferry. To get to that particular area in south Fruita, commuters would have to travel across the Fifth Street Bridge in Orchard Mesa to the Redlands, and then to Fruita. Thus, Fruita Bridge’s construction became vital to the area’s economic development.

The main access road was realigned in 1970, and a new bridge location replaced the Fruita Bridge, which was then used for recreation and by pedestrians. It was damaged by fire at one point and then deemed unusable to motor or foot traffic. Public access is currently not allowed because of its instability. The bridge is presently gated off by the county.

The most recent renovation to Fruita Bridge was in 2007. The steel pilings supporting the bridge were tipping and floating down river because they were only embedded 12-feet deep into the sandstone. At first, the City of Fruita and Mesa County government both contributed $100,000 each to demolish the structure, but after objections — including more than 60 letters of support to save the bridge from various organizations, and a petition brought forth to Fruita City Council by Henry — the demolition was reconsidered.


The effort to renovate the Fruita Bridge needs considerably more funding, however, to make it happen. The original $200,000 from the city and county to demolish the bridge was reallocated to the cause, plus a grant from the State Historical Fund and private fundraising led to redeeming the historical treasure.

To reopen the bridge to recreation, more work needs to be done, including encapsulating the lead-based paint and restoring the planking.

“For all-intensive purposes, it’s a viable structure; we just need to tweak it up a bit,” McNamara said.

Henry thinks reopening the bridge will help expand Fruita’s trail system into a greater network of recreational space for the community. It would allow easier access to Fruita Bike Park, Dinosaur Hill and other trails. Plus, it would keep pedestrian foot and bike traffic away from Hwy. 340 as a safer alternative.

As the project is in early states, a cost estimate to rehab the bridge has not yet been determined; but Henry and McNamara are familiar with the process of seeking grants and fundraising.

According to Buck, though she supports the bridge project, the City of Fruita is unable to allocate funding at this time.

“I hate to be the bad guy and say we don’t have the money, but Ken’s been mayor so he knows what our budget is like,” Buck explained.

The Fruita Rotary Club has offered to be the central communication hub for the project.

For more information or to get involved in the effort to rehabilitate Fruita Bridge, contact McNamara or Henry through rotary meetings, held every Tuesday at 12 p.m. at Fruita Civic Center.

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