by Rick Langenberg (related cover story)
The summer of disasters took an unexpected turn through Woodland Park, Crystola and Green Mountain last week, walloping local communities, destroying bridges and impacting utility lines, as well as dousing homes, businesses and public buildings. But the floods, unlike the previous disaster in the Waldo Canyon burn scar, didn’t result in any known injuries or fatalities. However, long-time residents have reported record waves of water gushing down Fountain Creek and the Ute Pass.
The fast-moving storm, which resulted in nearly three inches of rain in a brief period Thursday evening, also shut down Hwy. 24 between Cascade and Colorado Springs for hours, stranding commuters and many motorists. People were warned about even trying some of the alternative routes due to the continual rain and impacts on other roadways. The main entrance to Green Mountain was shut down until about 11 p.m. Thursday evening, and several small bridges near Fountain Creek were seriously damaged. Also, the first floor of the Woodland Park City Hall was flooded, forcing many offices to relocate in other sections of the building the following day. Officials in both cities spent Friday trying to evaluate the damage and consult with insurance adjusters. The damage toll hasn’t been finalized, but the storm-related costs are expected to soar into the thousands of dollars. “This really demonstrates the power of water,” said Mac Pitrone, a Green Mountain Falls trustee and a liaison for the GMF Public Works Department. “I have been here for 35 years and have never seen water rise like this,” said Pitrone “The one really good thing is that there were no injuries or fatalities. But there are a lot of hurt feelings. It was pretty serious. We really got hit bad. If we would have gotten a little more rain, we would have become an island.”
The flood’s physical toll is still quite evident with the Gazebo lake area filled with murky, dirty brown water, mud and debris and the playground park left in partial ruins. “It almost looks like something from India,” admitted Green Mountain Falls Clerk Chris Frandina, in describing the appearance of the murky lake water.
Frandina, a long-time resident and former mayor, said she has witnessed six major Fountain Creek flood events, but contends that nothing compares to the latest assault. “This one bakes the cake,” said the GMF clerk, who never remembers the town’s main west-bound entrance off Hwy. 24 onto Ute Pass Avenue getting shut due to flood water and debris. The biggest impact for the town was the destruction of two bridges off Hotel Street and El Paso Boulevard over Fountain Creek. One section of a bridge was left with a four-foot hole. Sections of the town near Fountain Creek still remain closed and are mostly off-limits, except for local traffic.
A slew of homes were damaged in the flood-plain areas in GMF and Chipita Park, including a section of town dubbed locally as “Preacher’s Row.” A home in the back of the former town hall area suffered much damage as did sections near the post office. The basements of some local businesses also were entrenched with water.
A GMF restaurant patron Thursday evening said he and his wife were accompanied to the main highway with the help of a state patrol vehicle. “It was pretty scary,” said the restaurant patron. “I have never seen a storm like this.”
The flood, hail and torrential rain also hit Woodland Park hard, especially with the gushing waters endangering sections of town near Fountain Creek, impacting the infrastructure site area of a major Federal Emergency Management Agency grant project, just east of downtown near Cavalier Park. Much debris was collected around utility lines, but no services were halted, according to city officials. Some patrons at the Safeway, meanwhile, weren’t permitted to leave the store until the storm subsided, according to several reports. In addition, the main first floor area in the WP City Hall was doused with water.
Even with the flood and the torrential rain, WP City Manager David Buttery reported no interruption in Woodland Park services, even at city hall. “We didn’t miss a beat,” said Buttery. He complimented city employees for their swift cooperation in moving to other parts of the building and in dealing with a trying situation. “City hall was not closed for business,” stressed Buttery.
However, Buttery contended that considerable post-flood damage work must occur at city hall, including an asbestos inquiry. A number of other homes in Woodland Park suffered much flood damage. Like Frandina, Buttery stated that the recent storm is the biggest local flood event he has experienced in nearly two decades of working with the city. “It was huge,” said the city manager, in commenting on the storm.
The storm also ravaged parts of Crystola, with reports of the massive water moving vehicles. On the upside, the flood had limited impacts inside the Waldo Canyon burn scar in the lower Ute Pass, but it caused major damage in sections of Colorado Springs, especially near Black Forest. Officials extended the Hwy. 24 closure Thursday evening to include the west side of Colorado Springs.
Commuters or people trying to get between Colorado Springs and the lower Ute Pass and Teller County were plain out of luck. Some could try alternate routes, but even these were considered quite dangerous, according to television news reports. The closed portion of Hwy. 24 was originally slated for a possible reopening later in the evening. However, that didn’t occur, with the road not reopening until Friday morning. In fact, the road was closed for the longest period since the invasion of monsoon storms in mid-July.
Officials were worried about the flood waters making a run for Manitou Springs. But the rain and flood didn’t accelerate in the Waldo Canyon burn scar like they feared. Still, officials weren’t taking any chances and many motorists were banned from entering Manitou Springs. And if people left Manitou that evening, they were told they may not be able to get back in. However, the storm left Cripple Creek and parts of southern Teller unscathed.