Raging South Platte River Forces Closures

_DSC7472Raging South Platte River Forces Closures

Robert Volpe

Access all along the South Platte River has been either restricted or closed to the public due to extreme flooding possibilities, a development that could put a damper on the pursuits of local recreation buffs.

Twenty campgrounds and picnic areas in the region have been closed to the public, including Happy Meadows Campground, Eleven Mile Canyon, and Waterton Canyon.

Several key roads in both Douglas and Jefferson counties are only open to local traffic until further notice. These include Hwy. 67 below Deckers and Spruce Wood in Douglas County. And in Jefferson County, the closures include the West Platte River Road from Buffalo Creek, and sections of the South West Platte River Road and West Pine Creek Road.

Authorities in Jefferson and Douglas counties have banned tubing, boating, fishing and swimming in the South Platte River and the rivers north fork. Officials havent indicated when this recreation ban will be lifted.

In Sheridan, a 20 year old ex-Marine drowned while tubing on the river. His friends tried to rescue him but were unable to reach him due to the swift current.

Locally, Eleven Mile Canyon was evacuated and closed last week to all recreation until further notice due to high water threatening to wash out the popular road. Gene Stanly from the Park County Office of Safety, Planning and Protection said all campers and day visitors were evacuated without incident on the morning of June 17.

Eleven Mile Canyon is a popular area for rock climbing, fishing, camping, picnicking and hiking and has recently been discovered by a growing number of kayakers. According to the Park County Tourism Office, Eleven Mile Canyon State Park receives over 300,000 visitors per year. The canyon is also home to Camp Alexander, owned and operated by The Boy Scouts of America. There are over 500 boy scouts currently at the camp and the majority of them have elected to stay despite the evacuation notice.

However, 70-plus vehicles at the camp have been moved out of the canyon to prevent them being stranded in the event the road is rendered impassable. The scout camp is well above the river and there is no risk to life or limb to the scouts.

Above average winter snow pack, heavy spring snowstorms and record setting May rainfall have all attributed to the extreme high water levels in the South Platte River drainage this year. Hoosier Pass, the main headwaters of the river, was at 194 percent of normal snow pack in May. The historic average runoff flows for this time of year above Spinney Mt Reservoir is estimated at 300 cfs (cubic feet per second). This year the river above Spinney is running at over 1000 cfs, as of press time.

This year the Denver Water Board is draining Antero Reservoir to do required repairs and maintenance to the Antero earthen dam. Draining the reservoir is adding even more water to the Platte. Jeff Martin, Dam Safety Engineer at the Denver Water Board (DWB), said the work at Antero is under a contractual timeline and will continue since the work is imperative to the integrity and safety of the dam, but that they are watching the down river flows and will not release water that may exacerbate flooding downstream.

With all the water coming into Eleven Mile Reservoir, the DWB was forced to open one of the valves at the Eleven Mile Dam to match the flows coming into the reservoir from runoff and the draining of Antero, according to Stacy Chesney, media information officer for the DWB. The spillway at the dam was flowing at 700 cfs on June 15th before the valve was opened. The flow is now over 1100 cfs and rising slowly day by day.

Officials from the Lake George Volunteer Fire Dept., the U.S. Forest Service and the Denver Water Board surveyed the main area of concern on Wednesday morning. The area is located just below the entrance to Camp Alexander. The road at this point is very near the river and a stone and mortar wall was built there decades ago to keep the river from crossing the road even in normal runoff years. The wall is approximately 75 feet long and three feet high. Water could be seen seeping under the wall in several places and the river was within 18 inches of the top of the wall and moving fast. There is a possibility that the rivers current could undermine the wall causing the wall to collapse into the river, at which point the river would run unabated onto the road for several hundred feet down river.

According to Barb Timock, public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service, even in the event that the road is not washed out and the river recedes, the Forest Service will not reopen the road until they conduct a complete inspection of the structural integrity of the six bridges along the road and check for any areas that the river may have eroded under the roadway.