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September’s flood that sent water roaring down canyons, washing out roads and bridges, seeping into and sometimes carrying away structures in its path, was a stunning display of nature’s power. Many residents of the mountain communities in Northern Colorado will be experiencing its after effects for months and years to come.
The Rist Canyon Road is now passable and open to the pubic according to Rist Canyon Fire Chief Bob Gann. Road repairs are temporary, but Gann says barring an unexpected event, the road will be functional until spring when Larimer County crews will construct a permanent road. While the September flood had a significant effect in the canyon, Gann says that frequent flooding during the summer months meant that the “big flood” was not as surprising and devastating as it might have been. “We were prepared. It was just another flood for us,” Gann said, “though it was a good bit bigger than the others.”
His department also covers Buckhorn Canyon where the road is now open but primitive and restricted to residents and others with prior permission to travel on it. Forest Service and Sheriff’s Department personnel are patrolling the road and will ticket violators. Because of the nature of the temporary road, the fire department will not be able to respond to emergencies in the lower canyon. Chief Gann has made arrangements to have that area covered by the Loveland Rural Fire Protection District.
Larimer County crews have done a good job addressing the weak spots in Rist Canyon that were revealed during the flood, Gann said. He reports all side roads as passable and has learned that in some cases FEMA is providing funds to help with repair of private roads.
LaVonne and Rex Ewing decided in the early days following the flood that they preferred to stay at their home in the Lower Buckhorn rather than sitting in an evacuation center without a car. “We got together with people in our neighborhood and built temporary access crossings,” LaVonne said. “We built a bridge for one neighbor, and improved erosion issues on our private roads. We all shared garden produce with each other. Today the road from the Lower Buckhorn into town is accessible thanks to the efforts of Larimer County crews.
Hal Braden reports that Larimer County hired a crew to construct a one lane from the Buckhorn Ranger Station up Rd. 44H to Stove Prairie where there is access to Rist Canyon. “It takes three hours longer than it once did to get to a place where I can buy my weekly supply of beer,” Braden said. He’s happy that a propane delivery will keep he and his wife, Caroline, warm until December, that all his neighbors are still in the area, and that FEMA is coming through with road repair funds.
Adam Richards, who has lived in the middle Buckhorn Canyon for 12 years, is in limbo, not sure what to do next. For the first couple of weeks following the rush of water, he found himself in awe of what he was seeing — Buckhorn Canyon road turned into a fast-moving river, a huge culvert torn loose and crashing into the bridge he uses to access the road and pieces of road so completely torn away that it was hard to imagine a road ever being in that spot. His house was not damaged, but his large deck overlooking the creek was annihilated. He found it downstream and has been working to repair and replace it.
“I heard helicopters overhead, “Richards said. “I knew people were being told to evacuate, that there would be no access to their homes for six to eight months, but I wanted to stay, to experience fully this event that so few people would ever get to observe.”
Although his livelihood, working with solar installations and as a mural artist, demands daily trips into Fort Collins, Richards and his two dogs and cat were trapped by road washouts above and below him in Buckhorn Canyon. He wasn’t altogether sorry about it. It gave him time to fully contemplate the event.
Eventually, Richards made the four-plus hour hike out and with his son’s help, brought one dog and his cat into town. Zephyr, his old “malacocker,” who could not have made the long hike, remains in the canyon with plenty of food and water and a doggie door that allows him access to the wild country he loves. “He’s a lease-free dog,” Richards says. He wouldn’t know what to do in town.
A trip to the Disaster Assistance Center in Loveland and paperwork interactions with FEMA, has brought home to Richards the complicated nature of what he must deal with. From his temporary base at the Hilton Hotel in Fort Collins, he has been occupied retrieving tools he needs for his work. He found a back way to hike into his property to carry his tools out. “They’re heavy,” he says. He’s made several trips and stashed tools under a tarp in a vehicle-accessible area, awaiting pick-up.
Mid-October he got word about road-building activity in the canyon. Crews and equipment were working from the top of the canyon down and from the bottom of the canyon up, to reconstruct the road. Richards and many of his neighbors are wondering if this means they will have access to their homes shortly. If the road will soon be open, Richards’ treks to retrieve his tools will appear to be wasted time and effort.
If the road does become accessible, he’ll have a difficult decision to make. He heats his large home with wood, specifically aspen, which he usually gathers in large quantities this time of year. He hasn’t been able to do that this year. He wonders how he will keep warm during the winter months.
He also wonders when he can expect some help from FEMA. That won’t be forthcoming until his home has been inspected. And that won’t happen until the road is passable. Richards has lots to think about and decisions that will have to wait until… “I’m not the only person in this situation,” he says. “There are plenty of us.”
Matt Bartmann and his wife, Sally have been in town for a couple of weeks now. FEMA assistance made it possible for them to stay in a hotel until they were able to make their place in town livable, and further assistance is making it possible for them to continue making their mortgage payments. He describes the Disaster Assistance Center in Loveland as nothing short of amazing, making “all the little things you forget you need” available. “Everyone there has been friendly, helpful and caring,” he said.
Bartmann worries most about the wild birds they left behind and has even made a trip back home to set up a new tray feeder with 150 pounds of bird food. The Bartmanns reach their house by traveling up Highway 14 to Pingree Park Road and over Pennock Pass. Their driveway is washed out and has mug blogs that make it impassable, requiring a steep uphill hike. But he says many people farther down the canyon have it tougher, with all their vehicles stranded and a several mile hike to get out. The Bartmann’s friend Adam Richards is one of those people