Barbara Lawlor, Coal Creek Canyon. It was an odd place for a picnic.
Large trucks and motorcycles roared down the highway, churning up dust and blowing out diesel fumes within yards of the diners. At least 50 people showed up on the shoulder of Colo. 72 on Saturday evening to enjoy a barbecue and the peaceful trickle of the creek on the opposite side of the highway.
Four years ago, in September of 2013, residents had watched the trickle become a ravenous, raging river, eating away at the riparian banks, and pulling the bridge and the road downstream, leaving many Coal Creek Canyon residents stranded. The Flood charged into garages and basements and washed away bridges that allowed residents access to their property.
Over the next few months, Coal Creek Canyon worked steadily to bring their lives back to order but it was a long journey. Flood damage across the Front Range resulted in $3.4 billion and changed residents’ relationship to local waterways. It also resulted in the Coal Creek Canyon Watershed Partnership among Jefferson, Boulder and Gilpin Counties. The Environment Group created a watershed restoration master plan to assist the canyon community in its post-flood recovery effort.
The CCCWP was formed and in 2016 became its own 501 c 3, no longer affiliated with TEG. With finances from a Community Development Block Grant under the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, a staff was hired to manage the project and lead the coalition.
On Saturday, Jackie Daoust, the Coal Creek Canyon Watershed Restoration Program Assistant told the crowd that this part of the program was the first to be completed. She and David Kumin, the Watershed Coordinator stood on the ledge above the creek and described how it had been wiped out. A fuzz of newborn grass turned the earth a light green as the setting sun sprinkled light on the rebirth poking up through the landscape netting. The residents remembered the violent result of the flood.
The intersection of the highway and Twin Spruce Road has been open for a couple years, but the real estate office is gone, the gas and electric building is gone. Kumin says that he and Daoust were hired to organize the recovery.
Kumin has a degree in Watershed Science and applied for federal funding to Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery. A combination of federal and state funds made it possible to accomplish two of the major goals, with two more to go.
“All of us in CCC have been incredibly fortunate to have had the funding support and technical assistance from the State of Colorado’s Division of Local Affairs and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, as well as the participation and cooperation from CDOT, our canyon neighbors whose property was included in this work along with residents who helped harvest willow cuttings. We are especially grateful for the professional design work provided by S20 Design and the exceptional construction work done by Whinnery Construction, all of which was supervised by the staff of the CCCWP,” says Jackie Daoust.
So far, they have realigned the stream, installed bank protection, planted vegetation, restored the riparian zones and built new culverts. These efforts have cost $1.5 million and there is $2.5 million in project work to come.
“These projects have made the infrastructure more resilient if this were to happen again,” said Daoust. “We added critical infrastructure to the roads to mitigate damage. This feels great to have worked for a couple of years to see this completion. It is also great to be outside. I have been lucky to work in the mountains and learn about the Coal Creek Canyon community.”
Future project goals include: build a stable and resilient stream channel; protect existing building and infrastructure, minimize the potential for erosion and restore riparian and aquatic habitat.
Nobody cared that they ate their pulled pork next to the highway. They were grateful to have a highway.