EL DORADO COUNTY -
Melba Leal leads drive to replace American River bridge used by the Pony Express
(Article from the Mt Democrat Newspaper)
With the annual Pony Express re-ride coming up June 13, members of the National Pony Express Association (NPEA) once again want to draw attention to their campaign to complete a portion of the historic trail that was destroyed 24 years ago.
The missing link is a bridge that at one time crossed the American River.
Originally built in 1855 by Anthony Brockliss as a crossing for miners, in 1858 it was rebuilt as part of a larger project to construct a road to Carson Valley, Nev. The Pony Express used the bridge from 1860-61 during their rides and is part of that historic trail.
The bridge collapsed in 1869 due to wear and neglect. By the mid-1920s, another bridge was built to accommodate logging operations. After 60 years of service, it was deemed unsafe and the U.S. Forest Service had the Corps of Engineers blow it up.
Since 1988, the lack of a bridge at the site has resulted in Pony Express riders having to come up with a different way to get the mail across the river during their annual commemorative re-ride between Sacramento and St. Joseph, Mo.
So several days before the event, a pulley and cable structure is put up. Then the day of the event, riders are stationed on either side of the river and the mochilla, or saddlebag carrying the mail, is pulled across the river. The cable is taken down afterwards.
In order to complete the trail as it originally existed, Melba Leal, a member of the California Division of the NPEA, said the group has been raising funds to build a new bridge as well as lobbying the U.S. Forest Service to make it one of its projects.
Called the Brockliss Bridge Project, Leal said the estimated cost is now $3 million which would include the bridge, a road down to the bridge from Pacific House to the American River and an interpretative center. An additional $300,000 is needed to build a smaller bridge across Brockliss Creek.
According to Leal, when completed it would connect the El Dorado Trail Project and the Pony Express Trail and would allow people to ride from Pacific House all the way to the top of the summit.
"I've asked if they could do the projects incrementally but El Dorado National Forest staff said no," said Leal.
So far NPEA has raised about $15,000 from donations, cookie sales and sales of a cookbook that Leal put together called the Pony Express Cookbook.
Last Saturday the group held an event at Pacific House called "Step Back in Time, Within Your Mind" on National Trails Day.
The purpose of the event was to raise awareness and support for the project. Activities included a tour of the American River Canyon, a display of the proposed Brockliss Bridge Project and having a Pony Express rider present to talk to guests. Later that evening they held a special swearing-in dinner for this year's Pony Express riders.
"We want to give back to community what it lost which is a crossing at this historical site," said Leal.
Leal has participated for many years on the Pony Express ride herself. "Riding the Pony Express trail is truly a rush," she said. "Part of experience is knowing you're on an historic trail."
Leal said women have been participants in the Pony Express ride since 1990. She doesn't ride anymore but according to Leal, about 45 percent of riders in California are women.
"The Pony Express was an important part of El Dorado County's history," she said. "Rebuilding the bridge across the American River will restore the continuous Pony Express Historical Trail and help keep the spirit of the Pony Express alive."
To read the original article in the Mountain Democrat CLICK HERE