Recovery of a Mountain Town….My 500 Words January 26, 2014



At the beginning of September, 2013, it rained….and rained….and rained….

A hundred miles away I watched my computer screen as a videographer captured the rushing, raging water washing down the main street of the little tourist town of Estes Park, CO..

As the days passed, scenes of unbelievable flood destruction floated across my TV.

I live on the rural plains of Colorado.  No mountains.  Only wheat fields, corn fields, and pastures dotted with grazing cattle.

Estes Park is close enough to be far away.  I can travel a mere one hundred miles and be surrounded by mountains.  It is a delightful day trip my husband and I have been enjoying for more years than I can remember.  It is our “go to” destination for birthdays and anniversaries.  The opportunity to spend a night or two is a welcome respite. It is our home away from home.  

My heart was heavy as the details of the flood destruction unfolded.   Big Thompson Canyon/Hwy 34 is the 17 mile route used to reach Estes from Loveland.  The estimate was 75-80% of that roadway was damaged, destroyed or missing entirely.  The projected date for travel worthy temporary repair was at least one year. Permanent fixes were going to take years.  My hat is off to the Colorado Dept. of Transportation.  They had Hwy 34 to Estes repaired for travel in 10 weeks.  Amazing!

This past Thursday my husband and I set out to check on our home away from home.  My dad’s caretakers were scheduled for consecutive days and we were able to be away.  I was anxious to see how “our” little town had survived. Questions raced through my mind.  What was the highway like?  Did our favorite stores still exist?  Were they open?  How was Tom the wild life photographer? What happened to the houses built on the sides of the canyon, just yards from the river’s edge?  

We observed remnants of flood damage miles before we drove into Big Thompson canyon.  Closed businesses with piles of dirt and debris in their once full parking lots. Telltale masses of dried vegetation wrapped around barb wired fences.  

Upon entering the canyon, we could soon discern new pavement from previously existing blacktop. Temporary concrete barriers replaced iron railings that had washed away with complete sections of highway.
Giant Cat back-hoes with thick rubber tracks were still working in the middle of the river bed.  Their metal arms and lobster-claw like buckets were removing debris and filling semi-trucks parked along the roadway.

We drove by massive piles of the remains of homes and businesses.  A random leather chair dumped precariously atop a pile was a somber reminder of families that were now homeless.

Houses hung off the canyon walls with gaping holes in their foundations.  Sticks of lumber dangled in mid-air.  Decks that had hosted parties, made memories, and offered evenings of relaxation were now crumpled and ravaged.

When we arrived in Estes we drove the length of Elkhorn Avenue, the main thoroughfare.  We wanted to see for ourselves if our old friend still looked the same.

The next day we walked the length, both sides, of Elkhorn.  We visited our favorite shops and asked how they were doing and listened to the details of their recovery.  They were positive, upbeat, grateful to the crews that had repaired the roads, hopeful for the future.  With the exception of one garden-level restaurant, every business was up and running.  Quite a feat considering many buildings had to be gutted and completely remodeled.

In 2014 there is the possibility that there could be a 30% reduction in out-of-state tourism for Estes….that is a loss of 31.4 million dollars and 335 jobs.
Those numbers are staggering.

Give yourself the gift of a day away and wander up the beautiful canyon to roam through this gem of a mountain town. Linger over a meal.  Purchase a souvenir or two.  It is a gorgeous, relaxing trip any time of the year. Summer and fall are breath-taking.  

I know you will love my home away from home as much as I do.