Colorado History Professor Dr. Tom Noel: ‘It’s been fun following the South Platte River and its rejuvenation’


Here’s a recap of a recent presentation at a Fort Morgan brown-bag lunch affair, from Jenni Grubbs writing for The Fort Morgan Times. Thanks to Downstream Neighbor (@downstream2012) for the link. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

“The South Platte has been the mainstream of Colorado history,” [Dr. Noel] said. “That’s how the gold-rushers came in.” Yet, he pointed out that the origins of the word “platte” are none too auspicious; it comes from a French word that means “flat” or “insipid.”

“When they called it ‘insipid’ or ‘flat,’ they didn’t venture far enough,” he said, smiling and pointing to the river’s start up in the Rockies near South Park and Long’s Peak.

Dr. [Noel] said that Maj. Stephen Harriman Long gave the first recorded report of about the South Platte, which mentioned flat-bottomed steamboats travelling on it. “Any of you ever tried to navigate the Platte?” Dr. [Noel] asked to laughs. “The steamboat pilots had various names for the Platte, none very flattering.”

When the explorers couldn’t get through Waterton Canyon, they went south instead, missing the non-flat parts of the South Platte, he said.

He also pointed out that they called what is now Castle Rock “pound cake,” saying, “They must have been hungry.”[…]

By the late 1850s, though, the South Platte and Cherry Creek became famous as the start of the gold rush in Colorado, which brought many, many fortune seekers across the Eastern Plains and along the river to Denver. At this time, the Rocky Mountain News “encouraged people to ‘come to the promised land'” by following the Platte River, Dr. [Noel] said…

“As the Platte gets liberated from Denver, it’s fun to walk along it,” he said. “It’s fascinating to see how the Plains agriculture sprouted. The Great American Desert turned into the breadbasket.”[…]

… he also spoke about water diversions and current efforts to revitalize the river, including projects to make it a “greenway” in Denver at its confluence with Cherry Creek. And he pointed to history alongside the river, such as the fact that the current site of Elitch Gardens amusement park in LoDo was once where the city’s “biggest car junk yard” was located.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

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