By Bill Plock
Sometimes bridges connect roads and trails. Sometimes they connect neighbors and lives. In this case the Lancaster bridge in Idaho Springs connects a trail, to a life, to a past, to an era, to a lifestyle to all things cycling in Colorado.
Scott Lancaster, it seems, lived the life of a legend. His death is in ways legendary, and the way he led his short life was epic. He died at the age of 18 on January 14th, 1991 in Idaho Springs. He was killed by a mountain lion on a training run. He was the first known person to ever be killed by a mountain lion in Colorado. The story made national news but was over-shadowed by the start of Operation Desert Storm on January 17th—the same day Scott’s body was finally found.
When I asked his classmate and a best friend, Eric Simonich, to describe Scott, he just shook his head with a grin. A grin reflecting memories of Scott “one upping us all the time, I don’t know how he’d do it, but somehow he did.” Until he didn’t. When Scott didn’t show up for ski team practice, Eric, knew something was up.
Mike Hillman, Mayor of Idaho Springs proudly spoke of the importance of remembering Scott and his family in perpetuity. “The Lancaster Family and Scott are very much a part of our community and I want to make sure the new bridge being built and the Greenway trail coming through town bare his name.”
This past weekend the WeRide4 cycling club gathered with Scott’s brother and WR4 teammate Todd Lancaster for a memorial ride starting at the bridge. The group meandered west through Clear Creek County in remembrance of Scott while meeting new teammates, friends and family of the Lancasters.
The idea was to bring awareness to the cycling community of the current bridge and the future project to redo it. Sharon Madison, Team Director of WeRide4 has a special bond with Todd Lancaster. When Sharon lost her son in 2016, Todd reached out to help her through that grief. Sharon says, “I knew very little about the bridge, but when I learned the story behind it, I thought the event should absolutely happen to bring awareness. It was the perfect opportunity for me to show the kind of love and support Todd has given me so often by having WR4 honor the memory of his brother.”
The Lancaster Bridge and trail is being re-worked by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) in cooperation with Idaho Springs, Clear Creek County and the Lancaster Family. It’s part of the Peaks to Plains trail project which eventually will connect the Platte River with the headwaters of Clear Creek on Loveland Pass.
Scott, who lived on Floyd Hill, east of town, would often ride his bike to school. At the time, there wasn’t a bike path around the tunnels leading to Idaho Springs. There was a choppy dirt road causing Scott to unclip and walk the road and continue his journey. It was not an easy commute, and with a tough up-hill ride home, the entire effort reflected Scott’s love of cycling and bikes.
When Scott was killed, the community, particularly his classmates rallied to memorialize him. Because of his love of cycling, and knowing his tough commute, building a bridge connecting the trail seemed like a fitting memorial.
Through numerous efforts and connections, the community, along with Colorado State University student engineers built a bridge in Scott’s honor. The bridge was designed by an infamous Swiss engineer, Julius Natterer who had designed a similar bridge in Switzerland. Local construction company, Gerald Phipps Inc (original owners of the Denver Broncos), loaned out cranes to help with the project and everyone pitched in to make it happen.
Neil Ogden, Engineer for CDOT recognizes the importance of the memorial and said that the old bridge “will cover a draw leading a trail for people to have easier access to the creek but it won’t be the main bridge for bike traffic on the new trail. We recognize the importance of this original bridge and want to be sure to keep it as part of the trail experience.” The current bridge doesn’t meet the current standards for bike trails.
Keeping the bridge and recognizing Scott, bridges more than geography. It bridges time and the cycling community. It bridges a time when American cycling was hitting its stride with classic bike races and teams like 7-Eleven and the Coors Classic, the Red Zinger, the movie American Flyers and more. Scott loved it all.
He grew up idolizing Ron Kiefel (part of the family that owns Wheat Ridge Cyclery) and the 7-Eleven Cycling Team. Ironically Scott’s last known meal was a take out pizza from the 7-Eleven in Idaho Springs.
Scott’s parents, unfamiliar with cycling embraced his love of racing and took him all over to race at a time when bike racing was difficult to follow. Scott’s father was an aerospace engineer and spent a lot of time in Huntsville, Alabama working on space ships. Maybe Scott inherited that mechanical aptitude. He was always interested in the mechanics of a bike and appreciating its function, but also its beauty. His father reminisced how excited he was to get a Gangl bike. They are handmade in Golden by legendary bike builder Richard Gangl.
“I remember he would never lay his bike down,” recalled his friend Eric. “Scott was a bigger than life kind of guy and when I heard about this bike ride I had to be here.”
Like maybe the effort to “Save the Clocktower” in the movie “Back to the Future”, saving the Lancaster bridge represents more than meets the eye. It represents the life of a youth growing up in Colorado who loved the simplicity of riding bikes, skiing and growing up in the mountains. A time, maybe simpler, but a time of youthful vibrancy and independence. The bridge and ride showcased the outpouring of community love and the loss it felt. Keeping the legacy of the Lancasters perhaps bridges Idaho Springs to its past, but also to its future as it becomes an even more important part of transportation across the state of Colorado and a key hub in recreation and cycling.