Staff Reporter 

Winchester bridge looking for new home


March 23, 2023


The old Cottonwood Creek Bridge at Winchester sets awaiting its new home, while work is underway constructing the new bridge.

At a Washakie Museum and Cultural Center meeting on March 14, the Board of Directors decided not to accept the relocation of Cottonwood Creek Bridge in Winchester to museum property.

In 2021, the museum, Washakie County and Wyoming Department of Transportation entered a Memorandum of Agreement where the county would transfer ownership of the historic bridge to the museum to be displayed south of their parking lot on Newell Sargent Foundation land. However, in 2023, it was discovered that the bridge was covered with lead-based paint, which has started flaking due to weathering.

Previous solutions proposed by representatives from the involved agencies included removing the paint – an estimated $86,000 cost, encapsulating the bridge with a new coat of paint, treating only a portion of the bridge for indoor display, or placing interpretive signs at the bridge's original location. The bridge could also be left as-is in an outdoor space with no permissible limits for lead. Any costs associated with lead remediation would fall on the museum after transfer of ownership.

In a press release from the museum, Curator Stefanie Kowalczyk said, "Before they built the Cottonwood Creek bridge, it was very difficult for automobiles to reach Worland from the south. If people were travelling north to reach Yellowstone, they would have had to be prepared for a sloppy creek crossing and flat tires. This bridge certainly had a positive impact on the development of Worland and Washakie County." Kowalczyk added that, as a historian and archaeologist, she recognized the historic value of the bridge; but as a citizen of Worland, she wouldn't want to expose locals and visitors to the risks of the paint. As a part of the museum, she said there were other, more critical, expenses facing the museum's budget.

"We really wanted to preserve the bridge and make it available to the public, but we're not comfortable accepting the risks associated with the lead-based paint. And unfortunately, we just don't have the funds to remediate the paint on the whole bridge," said board member George Sheaff.

Kent Richins, who serves on both the Museum Board and the Newell Sargent Foundation Board, explained in the press release that accepting the bridge involved excessive risk and expense. "We regret that we can't accept and feature the bridge, but it's just not a wise choice for the museum and the Foundation," said Richins. "We are hopeful that the County can find another acceptable location for the bridge."

At the County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, March 21, WYDOT Cultural Resources Supervisor Stephanie Lowe suggested that the MOA be amended, not terminated.

WYDOT will create engineering records of the bridge, take photos and collect a written history to be sent to the Library of Congress. Lowe said that the museum is still interested in having an interpretive display on the bridge, which WYDOT will aid them in creating and funding. Washakie County will then be able to dispose of the bridge as they see fit.

"We would prefer that it remain as a bridge and be used by someone rather than going to the salvage yard, but we understand due to the costs, that if there is no interest in the bridge, then perhaps the salvage yard is its final resting place," Lowe said.

Chairman Aaron Anderson noted that Washakie County and WYDOT previously agreed to support a combined $6,500 in transportation costs for the bridge. He also presented a previous estimate of $29,000 to scrap the bridge. As such, Anderson suggested that the bridge could be put up for bid, with WYDOT and the county supporting up to $6,500 in transportation costs to its new home.

The Commissioners and Lowe seemed satisfied with this option, as Commissioner Morgan Martinez noted, "It would be nice if [Cottonwood Creek Bridge] could stay in Washakie County and gets some use."


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