Digging out and rebuilding, US 36 to open today #COflood

US 36 West of Lyons September 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call
US 36 West of Lyons September 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

From USA Today (Trevor Hughes):

Electricity and land-line phone service have been restored [ed. in Glen Haven] with the help of crews from surrounding communities. But massive piles of debris torn from trees and soaked out of homes still line the hamlet’s single road, which dead-ends just past the general store now instead of continuing down the canyon…

A few miles up the road, in the relatively bigger town of Estes Park, success sounds a lot like the flushing of toilets. On Oct. 25, the town reconnected 400 customers to the flood-damaged sewer system. That means 400 homes that can now use their toilets, taking them out of the town’s “no flush” zone and providing a much-needed sense of normalcy…

That energy got another major jump when contractors and state transportation officials announced they’d have U.S. Highway 36 open by Monday, nearly a month ahead of schedule. Only four roads connect Estes Park to the rest of the world. Three were damaged by floodwaters, and the fourth, through Rocky Mountain National Park, is already closed for the winter because of heavy snowfall at its top elevation of nearly 12,000 feet.

Opening U.S. 36 will double the number of open roads into town and shave about 45 minutes off what today is a three-hour drive from Estes to the nearest city, Loveland. Estes Park is due west and uphill of Loveland, and the raging Big Thompson River ripped out large sections of U.S. Highway 34 through the canyon connecting the two. U.S. 34 is slated to reopen by Dec. 1 thanks to National Guard soldiers and contractors.

From Live Science (Stephanie Pappas):

Landslides spanned the gamut of northern Colorado geology and environments, Godt said. There were slides in Boulder and Golden, both towns in the foothills at elevations around 5,500 feet (1,676 meters). Far above, slides scar Rocky Mountain National Park near the continental divide at about 12,000 feet (3,658 m). The widespread nature of the rain and flooding meant that nothing was safe from slope failures: Sedimentary rocks slid, as did crystalline rocks immediately west of the foothills. Hillsides turned into landslides in residential areas among grasslands and in alpine environments along the treeline.

Many of these landslides started off small and gained momentum as they rolled down slopes, Godt said. Some left behind rivers of debris about 6 .5 feet (2 m) thick. Some slides moved boulders 6.5 to 10 feet (2 to 3 m) long as if they were pebbles. Among the most impressive slides was one on the east flank of Twin Sisters Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. That slide measured between 2.5 to 3 miles (4 to 5 km) long…

Landslides aren’t an uncommon result of mixing steep slopes with heavy rain, particularly in areas scarred by wildfires, as parts of northern Colorado have been in recent years. But the September storm was unusual nonetheless, Godt said.

“In terms of the geographic extinct and the intensity of activity, this event is without well-documented historical precedent,” he said.

From The Estes Park Trail (Estes Valley Land Trust):

For conservationists, the disaster presents a unique challenge. EVLT, along with its 160 public and private owners of conserved land, works to protect open space, valleys, wildlife habitat, wetlands, and streams. Having set aside almost 10,000 acres in the Estes Valley, EVLT’s mission is to guard those lands “in perpetuity” from development and change.

But after a natural disaster, what once was a pristine mountainside now must have access for a public road. What once was lovely meadow and wildlife habitat is now a lake or a new riverbed. The riverbed has broadened, carelessly depositing rock and debris at random on the forest floor. The gorgeous private nook, where fish always lingered and time stood still, is gone forever.

The dilemma of preservation goes even further than a parcel of land. It goes to the heart of who we are as Coloradoans…

This can be seen through a closer look at our mountains. For those who have recently traveled Colorado Highway 7, two new spectacular mudslides are now visible near the boundary of Boulder and Larimer Counties. One is behind Aspen Lodge and the other is behind Saint Malo’s Retreat Center and Chapel on the Rock. EVLT Director Art French and a friend, both retired geologists, hiked up the side of Mount Meeker to view the devastation caused by the miles-long mudslide behind the chapel. What they discovered is not surprising. This is not the first time there has been a mudslide. In fact, there is clear evidence of at least two other larger mudslides in the same area in the past few millennia. And of course, these are the mudslides that built the lush meadows and gorgeous resort areas that have been enjoyed during the last century.

As conservationists who love the untouched wilderness, recent floods remind us of the broader view. Nature’s timetable and agenda are different than our own. The need for change, flushing the meadow, sending the river to a clear, cobblestone-lined state of grace in a new location, bringing the mountains’ rich sediment to the valley, are all part of the “natural” process.

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