A year after ‘biblical’ flooding, Colo. still recovering

No single photo can show last year's widespread damage, but here you can see how the swollen South St. Vrain Creek destroyed Highway 7 west of Lyons. (Photo: Denver Post)

No single photo can show last year’s widespread damage, but here you can see how the swollen South St. Vrain Creek destroyed Highway 7 west of Lyons. (Photo: Denver Post)

It’s September 11, but I’m not really thinking about New York City. You’ll have to forgive me for that. Outside it’s cold (not even 50°) and skies are heavy with rain. All I can think about is that one year ago today the rains began. All across the Denver area, the Colorado Front Range, the foothills, and up in the high country.

And then the floods came. Here in the metro, low areas were flooded, parks and golf courses were inundated. Traffic was snarled. But elsewhere, it was so much worse. Mountain highways and roads were destroyed. Towns like Jamestown and Glen Haven and Salina were nearly wiped off the map. Estes Park, just beginning its big fall tourist season, was essentially cut off from the rest of the world. Boulder, Lyons, and Longmont suffered massive flooding, destroyed homes. drowned livestock, water pollution. It was, said the National Weather Service, an event of “biblical proportions.”

For a number of days I didn’t write about anything else. Some of you may remember that. Oddly enough, some of those posts continue to get a lot of traffic. Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t land on this blog looking for information about which roads are open into Estes Park. A year later! I don’t know whether I should appreciate that they remember the floods or be upset because they don’t realize the roads were reopened very quickly. It was a real tour de force by the agencies involved, but those washed out highways were rebuilt and reopened within a few months. Work continues on Highway 36 from Lyons to Estes, but that’s because engineers decided to reroute portions of the highway away from the river and possible future floods. Even so, the road remains open, with only occasional delays.

The recovery continues, of course, for those who lost homes and businesses. Some people have rebuilt, some have moved away, and unfortunately some are still in limbo. Settlements and claims are still being negotiated.

Nevertheless, the recovery has been remarkable. Colorado is open for business.

The town of Lyons was flooded by both the North and South Vrain Creeks. (Photo: Denver Post)

The town of Lyons was flooded by both the North and South Vrain Creeks. (Photo: Denver Post)

A year ago, downtown Estes Park looked like this.

A year ago, downtown Estes Park looked like this.

The Big Thompson River chewed its way down the canyon between Estes Park and Loveland, destroying large sections of Highway 34. (Photo: Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Big Thompson River chewed its way down the canyon between Estes Park and Loveland, destroying large sections of Highway 34. (Photo: Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Then and now. See more then and now photos at the Denver Post. (Photo: Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post)

Then and now. See more then and now photos at the Denver Post. (Photo: Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post)

(Note, Sept. 14, 2014: A local retrospective on the flood, aired today, said there are still 118 miles of flood-damaged roads awaiting repair. Permanent repairs for all the roads and bridges are expected to take from 3 to 5 years to complete.)

Related Pied Type posts from 2013:



Categories: Colorado floods 2013

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16 replies

  1. Yes, I remember this, and I remember you writing about it, too!

  2. You were my best source for info about the area as it was available. To include the poor horse tied to the flooding stretch of fenceline, later rescued. I remember you were also worried about a family member in the Boulder area. You were often more informed and with more accurate photos than national media. Driving up 34 and down 36 was sobering for the extent of damage beyond what the 1976 flood caused, but inspiring for the fantastic work CDOT did putting both hwys back in service. You need to go see the Alluvial Fan area sometime, to witness those changes, too. Thank you for being a thorough source to so many searching for news!!

    • I haven’t been on either 34 or 36 since the floods. You’ve seen firsthand what CDOT accomplished; I’ve only read about it. I haven’t been through the Big Thompson Canyon since the ’76 flood. I’ve never liked canyons like that, and my close call with that flood convinced me to just avoid that canyon. Too bad the canyon is so narrow there’s no way to reroute the highway; I’ll bet CDOT is getting tired of rebuilding it.

      My brother lives in Boulder, although up in the mountains. I was worried about him because his was with his girlfriend down in town. Nice of you to remember that.

      I expect to get up to Estes in the next few weeks, and always circle through Horseshoe Park to see the wildlife. Frankly, I hope the Alluvial Fan washed away. I’ve always thought it an abomination, an ugly mess that would never have occurred if man hadn’t dammed Lawn Lake in the first place, or if the dam had been properly maintained. A manmade mess in an area of great natural beauty. And all they did was hang a sign on it as though it were a natural feature of the park. In my book, alluvial fans are made by nature.

      Sorry. End of rant.

      • Not a rant at all, but very true. It is a bigger scar now. But with all that damage from the failure of an earthen dam, not even the storms in 76 did anything to the .Roaring River there. Yet last fall, those days of rain caused enough water to flow in that destroyed area to move the river again, to wash out the road, and nearly bury the bridge. You posted photos of the damage to the Old Road, but hard to grasp a storm..could toss those house-sized boulders around so easily. I agree, tho, wishing the river and meadow was unharmed… the stand of aspens along the trail in that section was so beautiful. Not to mention wonderfully shady coming back down that long, hot, dusty trail! I have promised myself to stay out of BT Canyon if even mist is in the air….

  3. Amazing photos. It’s fascinating how much blogging opens up to us that we’d never normally hear about through mainstream media. Prior to reading your blog I was reading one about the slow creep of volcanic lava in Hawaii.

    • Lots of potential natural disasters in the world. I’m glad to at least not have to worry about lava creeping into my neighborhood. Of course, if the Yellowstone caldera ever blows, things will get a bit messy.

    • It’s remarkable how fast the main roads were fixed. And incredibly sad to see all the reports on local news this week about people still struggling to rebuild homes and private roads. The highways were rebuilt of necessity. Private roads and drives were not.

  4. 36 was rebuilt by the FHWA (Federal Contracting). American Civil Constructors, ACC, got the contracts for 36 and 43 through Federal, not state. These were not CDOT projects.

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