A Bridge for Bear Canyon 8

Built by Ralph Wadsworth, Bridge Diverts Hikers from Watershed

Suspension bridges have long been part of the world’s mountainous regions and now Draper’s ridges can join that rank. Look eastward on Pioneer Road, continue upwards to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, and there you’ll see the 185-foot-long bridge over Bear Canyon.

Every day this past spring, long-time Draper resident and structural engineer Ralph Wadsworth drove his green Yamaha Rhino up the steep, temporary construction path to work on this labor of love. And labor it was. He’s built road bridges for decades as founder of Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction, and while this bridge may not be his favorite, the 80-year-old admits, “It’s the one I’ve worked hardest on.”

“He’s amazing,” says his wife Peggy, who has been his companion since 1954. “I can’t believe he’s lived through it all.  He loves a challenge, and this truly was one.”

The steep, rocky terrain surrounding Bear Canyon is a risky challenge for hiking or driving, let alone hauling heavy machinery for construction purposes.

“We could only have one piece of equipment on the site,” Ralph says, pointing to a track hoe. “How do you erect something as tall as a bridge with a dinky track hoe? It isn’t easy.” No cranes, concrete mixers, or large drills were taken up the mountainside. Instead, generators, saws, beams, cables, wood and concrete were hauled using pick-up trucks, his Rhino or the track hoe. It’s a remarkable feat, considering the bridge was constructed over an 130-foot-deep canyon.

Durability played a role in the choice of materials because, as Ralph says, “No one will come here to paint it.” Weathered steel and treated lumber from Oregon comprise the simple, but elegantly designed bridge. The clamps are made from highly polished stainless steel, which shines when the sun sets.

Bill Becker of Corner Canyon Trails Foundation, a non-profit which helped support the project, says it was a joyful, surreal experience to see how the Wadsworths and employees completed the bridge and in such a short period of time.

“He was on the offensive,” Becker states. But more importantly Becker was amazed that Ralph was willing to undertake the project and make such a significant contribution to the community. “We don’t envision companies or individuals accepting this kind of challenge and funding much of it, especially someone with such a solid background in bridge construction.”

The reason for the Bear Canyon Trail Bridge is to divert hiker traffic away from the upper canyon, which is a watershed. In 1992 the Wadsworths built a bridge in the upper canyon. “We actually flew that one in with a helicopter,” recalls Ralph’s son Tod, a main player in the construction. The intent was to keep dogs out of the stream, he said, however, dogs couldn’t read the “no dogs” sign posted nor could some humans.

Julie Kilgore, who leads Monday night hikes around Corner Canyon, says she is pleased the bridge was built because the city and water companies had considered closing the canyon to hiking due to the dog problem. “It is a reminder to all of us that we have an unusual wilderness interface and we should respect the rules or we will lose access to it.”

Support for the project included Draper City, Sandy City, Corner Canyon Trails Committee, WaterPro, Bonneville Shoreline Coalition, Scott Scharman, Paul Anderson, Paul Skene, R.E.I., Alta View Concrete, In Between Days, Premier Fitness Camp and, most notably, in-kind donations from the Wadsworth family including Ty, Con, Kip, Ralph, Tod, Nic and Wadsworth Construction. Ralph estimates the bridge was built for about $155,000, but he says, “It is worth a lot more than that.”

Others, like Becker, agree. “It will be a landmark for generations to come.”

The Wasatch Mountain Club offers Monday evening hikes throughout Corner Canyon. On September 14, at 6 p.m. a hike will be offered to see the new bridge. Meet at the northeast uppermost level of the Draper TRAX station. Call Julie Kilgore at 801.244.3323 for more details.