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Slackliner Ryan Robinson sets record as Folsom celebrates Rainbow Bridge’s 100th birthday

Watch slackline athlete set world record, walk on 1-inch line across American River

Slackline athlete Ryan Robinson set a world record on May 4, 2019 by crossing a 1,919-foot span over the American River between Lake Natoma Crossing and the Rainbow Bridge in Folsom on a 1-inch wide line.
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Slackline athlete Ryan Robinson set a world record on May 4, 2019 by crossing a 1,919-foot span over the American River between Lake Natoma Crossing and the Rainbow Bridge in Folsom on a 1-inch wide line.

For 100 years, the Rainbow Bridge has stood as an anchor for Folsom: a hub for family outings, a backdrop for romantic interludes, a perennial attraction for teenage thrill-seekers.

As the city celebrates the bridge’s centennial Saturday with a daylong celebration in Historic Folsom, slackline athelete Ryan Robinson successfully walked his 1-inch-wide line crossing a 1,919-foot span over the American River between Lake Natoma Crossing and the Rainbow Bridge, setting a new world record.

For Folsom natives such as Robinson, nostalgia for the bridge flows as strong as the currents of the American River under its 209-foot arch.

Sammy Mello is among the many for whom the bridge has special meaning. When she was 19, she finally plucked up the courage to climb the massive arch to sign her name and date under the bridge.

“If you’re an original Folsom resident, it’s a good feeling to put your name on it,” Mello, now 27, said.

Countless locals have felt that connection over the century.

When the Rainbow Bridge first opened to traffic Feb. 10, 1919, it was the largest concrete bridge in Sacramento County, and one of the longest concrete arch bridges for traffic in the United States, according to a November 1918 Sacramento Bee article.

The bridge was meant to connect Folsom to Orangevale and Fair Oaks on the other side of the river, offering earlier access to Sacramento using the existing Greenback Lane. It cost $100,000 to build back in 1919, according to The Bee, or about $1.5 million today when adjusted for inflation.

The bridge was meant to be pragmatic, solving the growing automobile needs in the area. Its original name was simply the American River Bridge at Folsom.

But in the last century, the bridge has developed into something more iconic. In the early 1950s, a Folsom resident suggested to a Sutter Street shopkeeper that a more descriptive name would work well on postcards, according to the city. With its rainbow-shaped arch, the new name stuck.

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The bridge became an attraction for folks young, old and in-between: spectators hoping for a glimpse of the Fourth of July fireworks at the Folsom Pro Rodeo. Families playing along nearby banks. And, yes, kids abandoning caution and jumping off the bridge into the water below.

“We didn’t have much to do growing up in Folsom” in the 1980s, said Scott Mc Intyre, who started attending Folsom High School his sophomore year.

Mc Intyre remembers riding across the bridge on his bike to meet his friends at Beals Point, and waiting for traffic to clear on the bridge long enough to run across, hop the railing and jump into the river – “a way for high school kids to impress the girls,” he said, a “Let’s see who could be stupidest” kind of thing. (Though it serves as a rite of passage for some Folsom teens, the bridge prohibits pedestrians and jumping.)

Watch drone video of Folsom's Rainbow Bridge on the American River, Thursday, May 2, 2019, one hundred years after its construction in 1919.

“We didn’t see it as a roadway,” Mc Intyre said. “We saw it as a gathering place.”

Charles Ho was living in Rocklin when he first saw the Rainbow Bridge in 2010 while on a date with a woman from Folsom. After a dinner at Chicago Fire, they went for a walk under the bridge. Within two years, the two married, Ho moved to Folsom, and they had three children.

“We have fond memories,” Ho said. Every year, on the anniversary of their first date, Ho and his wife, Ashley, make sure to eat at Chicago Fire and take a stroll around the bridge.

In the last few decades, several other bridges spanning the American River have cropped up: Lake Natoma Crossing, a few blocks downstream from the Rainbow Bridge, was built in 1999. To the north, Folsom Lake Crossing opened 10 years ago.

But for locals, the Rainbow Bridge is something special, a reminder of “much simpler times,” Mc Intyre said, when he and his friends would listen to music on a boombox down by the arch.

“The bridge was a vital part of our lives,” he said.

As for Mello, she looks forward to making new memories with her daughter, who’s too young to swim but has a “daredevil streak.”

“I’m a little scared, I did all this stuff as a kid but now I’m a mom,” Mello said with a laugh. “There’s gonna be a whole safety talk.”

Folsom’s Rainbow Bridge, spanning the American River, turns 100 years old Sunday, and the city will spend the next hundred days celebrating it.

How Folsom is celebrating the Rainbow Bridge centennial

On May 4, the city is closing the bridge to vehicular traffic and offering a full day of activities:

For more information, visit https://folsomrainbowbridge.com/celebrations/

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.

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