Cindy Leonard, Cobb Area Council member and the primary Firewise organizer for the day’s event, stands at the edge of Rainbow Bridge, a large roll of stickers in her hand. “Here,” she says, a smile in her eyes. “Take a couple.” She rips off four stickers. A rainbow arches over the words “Rainbow Bridge Celebration”. The bottom of the sticker reads: “5 Year Valley Fire Anniversary”.
“It’s so nice to have something good,” Cindy says. “Particularly with how things are now. With the disasters,” she looks up at the haze that has lifted for the day, leaving the sky a misty-blue. “And COVID.” But she’s smiling, and her rainbow-striped skirt matches the bridge stretching across Kelsey Creek behind her. Rainbow streamers drape its sides, and signs with “Thank You” and “Finally” written on them in marker hang from the posts. AmeriCorps volunteers wander back and forth, leaning over the railings to watch the water flow beneath. It’s been a long road since the Valley Fire for the Cobb community, and today, five years after the fire, something beautiful happened.
The importance of a small, single-lane bridge cannot be underestimated. For the past three years, the Estates neighborhood of Cobb, consisting of nearly 100 homes, has only had one entrance and exit. “That was scary when we had a house fire here last November,” Cindy says. “But this is just part of a larger four million dollar project that Cobb Water Company is working on.” Her eyes light up. “We’re going to have fire hydrants every five hundred feet!” Cindy, seeing another neighbor, quickly greets them: “Did you get some stickers?”
The Rainbow Bridge collapsed in the winter of 2017 during the heavy rains. “We’ve got six pilings forty feet into the ground,” Robert Stark of Cobb Water Company and designer of the plan, says, standing at the edge of the bridge. They’ve rebuilt it to withstand another hundred- and thirty-inch rain year like the one that destroyed it. He looks across the creek at the sloping bank. “We used oversized American Steel to make it stronger. And we’ve still got to put riprap in. Then it won’t wash out.”
To the left of the bridge in her parent’s driveway, Jessica Pyska decorates her vehicle with her children, getting it ready for the upcoming parade of cars. “It’s been a long haul, that’s for sure,” she says. “And it’s been a difficult and emotional time, with all this going on. It’s nice to have a glimmer of hope and joy.”
It’s truly a community celebration and proof of Cobb’s resilience in the past five years. “It wasn’t an easy or quick process,” Cindy says. “It took a lot of drive and creativity by many people to see the project through to the end.” The Friends of Cobb Mountain donated $26,000 to help fund the bridge, Americorps provided volunteers. District Supervisor Rob Brown and Jeff Lucas from Community Development Services provided assistance; State Senator Mike McGuire even helped advocate the project. North Coast Opportunities, EPIC/Listos, American Red Cross all helped fund and support the event. And it shows: there are almost as many volunteers as people coming for the event.
Neighbors mill around, chatting with friends, and picking up their complimentary lunches. Kids lean over the bridge railings, dropping rocks into the water. Cars begin to line up on the road, getting ready to cross. After a few minutes, neighbors, friends, Cobb Water employees, and CAC members duck under the red ribbon stretching across the bridge, grab a massive pair of scissors, and cut it. Everyone cheers and claps; it’s a new beginning.
A few minutes later the fire truck whoops its siren and the parade begins. Cars, following the fire trucks, begin to stream across the bridge, honking their horns. Neighbors clap and cheer, laughing and telling jokes as they cross the span. Jeeps, motorcycles, golf carts, and dogs in wagons walk across the creek, each with a big smile. AmeriCorps volunteers wait for them to cross, handing each driver a cupcake or two. And the parade keeps going. After crossing the Rainbow Bridge, the cars turn left on Bottle Rock Road for the first time in three years, then loop around to cross again.
“We didn’t plan on it being on the fifth anniversary of the Valley Fire,” Cindy says. “But it’s good.” She smiles again. “It’s good to have some good news.”