The clouds above Upper Buckhorn Canyon parted on Sept. 17 to reveal a military Chinook helicopter flying low over the hills west of Fort Collins, where mountain residents had been stranded by roads washed out during three days of torrential rain.
The Chinook landed and giant boxes filled with relief supplies emerged. “Just like Christmas,” one resident observed.
A surprise indeed, because the boxes were filled to overflowing — with folding chairs, emergency lights on hefty yellow extension cords and replacement light bulbs. There was no sign of things they did need, such as animal feed.
Hardy upbeat mountain people soon gathered around, determined to make the best of things. They set up the chairs in a semi-circle, wound the yellow extension cords into graceful loops and held up the light bulbs for a once-in-a-lifetime photo op.
Upper Buckhorn resident Sally Roth reported that a great bunch of “Jeep folks,” who were total strangers, somehow made it into the canyon with things the stranded residents said they really did need, including 150 pounds of dog food and medicine for horses. Along the way, these kind people stopped to pull a neighbor’s Bronco out of what was once the road. “A few hours drip-drying, a few shots of ether, and the vehicle started right up,” Roth said. The Good Samaritans wouldn’t take a penny for their work.
“We are all fine,” Roth reports. “We have adequate food for weeks, no houses were damaged at all, and everyone around us is safe and sound. All the official e-mails and bullhorns from helicopters advise us to EVACUATE NOW.”
Roth insists that all they really need to ensure their safety is maintenance of the Pennock/Pingree Road so that they can travel to town for supplies once a month and maybe a Jeep to share for winter travel. According to Rist Canyon VFD Chief Bob Gann, temporary repairs have been made on that remote mountain passageway and it is now accessible, though it may not be open when winter weather arrives.
Though the supplies dropped were of little use, Roth said she was extremely grateful for the helicopters that arrived to evacuate people with medical needs and those totally cut off from others. “Excellent and necessary work,” she said. “An example of good use of government dollars.”
Meanwhile Roth can’t help thinking that for what the government is spending on helicopters, they could park a road grader, snowplow and dump truck at Pingree and the residents of the area would happily maintain the road themselves. The government would not need to spend money on FEMA housing and finding temporary shelters until that housing was set up.
Instead of flying officials in by helicopter to do door-to-door head counts, Roth wondered why the government doesn’t make use of the Internet for surveys. “We could send them a photo of every person if they needed proof.”
“Meanwhile, we’re all fine,” she said. “We’re sharing whatever we have. It’s wonderful. And the folding chair care package gives us something to laugh about.”