GLEN HAVEN, CO – SEPTEMBER 30: Main street or Co Road 43 going through the town of Glen Haven, CO is completely gone on September 30, 2013. The road from here to Drake, Co 8 miles down is over 85% destroyed. (Photo By Helen H. Richardson/ The Denver Post)
The soul of the community survived. People in Glen Haven dug the mud out of one another’s homes. They evacuated their stranded neighbors four days before federal rescue workers showed up. From the wreckage left when West Creek became a roaring river, they built their own footbridge to reach homes on the other side.
They take pride in what they accomplished by themselves. Yet, three weeks later, some wonder why theirs is the little town that disaster relief forgot.
“We need help,” said Jason Gdovicak, chief of the town’s volunteer fire department. “We really need assistance with heavy equipment and manpower to run the
equipment. We’ve kind of been on our own for three weeks.”
Gdovicak left work at the YMCA of the Rockies when the floods began and hasn’t been back. Firefighters use all-terrain vehicles to ferry supplies and check on homes scattered in the hills and along the creeks. They helped rescue hundreds of people and saved the lives of a couple caught on the roof of their house. One firefighter was swept into the flood and survived with a broken kneecap.
What Gdovicak hasn’t seen yet is a highway repair crew.
County Road 43, the one road into Glen Haven, has been reduced in places to a single lane with jagged asphalt edges west of town. Just beyond the general store, where West Creek converges with Fox Creek and the North Fork of the Big Thompson River, the road disappears altogether.
For the next 8 miles, the road’s former path is a jumble of running water, boulders, asphalt chunks and downed trees.
Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Amy Ford said the road is the county’s responsibility, but “We at CDOT are continuing to work with the counties to determine whether there might be the opportunity to support them. Nothing has been determined at this point.”
During the wait for help, the Glen Haven fire station has run on a generator and doubled as a community building and base of operations. Chain-saw-wielding Southern Baptist volunteers from Texas came up to fell trees looming over houses. Residents delivered water and propane tanks to neighbors in need. A sign taped over a flag at the fire station reads, “For all our blessings we give thanks.”
Despite volunteers’ efforts, Glen Haven’s needs remain overwhelming. West Creek was a shallow stream, about 10 feet wide. It swept away houses and trees as it roared into town, leaving a swath of destruction 100 feet wide.
Estes Park Light and Power crews were in town this week to undertake the restoration of utilities to Glen Haven, and “they have
been doing a tremendous job since the beginning,” Gdovicak said. But “that’s really the only resources we’ve had on infrastructure.”
Steve Childs owns the general store, a fixture in Glen Haven for nearly a century. A gray-bearded man, he sports a National Rifle Association cap and a fire department radio. He relishes his town’s survival skills.
But he worries about the long absence of outside help.
“We’re all we’ve got,” he said. “There’s no county crews here, there’s no state crews here, it’s just us. We’re starting to get a little concerned. Do we have to send up a flare or what?”
He ambled through the remnants of Glen Haven’s quaint downtown. “Of the seven businesses in town, there are two left,” he said.
The horse-rental place is smashed. The gift shop is gone. So is Ernie Conrad’s real estate business, though somebody left one of his signs and a folding chair on the concrete slab where it stood.
At the antiques shop Tuck N’ Treasures, the flood tore bricks away from the building but left china cups and teapots standing on the shelves. The town’s original firehouse was leveled, as well, but firefighters saved the trucks by driving them through rising water to a new fire station uphill.
The flood also wrecked Glen Haven’s wooden town hall, sweeping it off its foundation and smashing it into the side of Childs’ store. Inside, his walk-in cooler tilts from the blow and is broken into four pieces.
This is the second time town hall has crashed into his store. The first was 1976, during the deadly Big Thompson Flood, but the building was salvageable that time.
“We did the Egyptian log- roll thing and moved it back on its foundation,” Childs said. “I had really hoped not to live through this twice.”
The fire chief estimates there are 500 homes in and around Glen Haven, and about half are occupied year-round. Many homeowners are retired. For those whose homes were cut off by the flood, there is one way in.
They can hike.
Al Wilson and Rich Brandenberger strapped on backpacks and made the trek Tuesday. Friends since childhood, Wilson is a retired American Airlines pilot, Brandenberger a retired plumber.
Wilson hiked with poles, stabbing plastic bottles and depositing them in trash cans as he went. The two men crossed the town-made footbridge, then scrambled up a steep hill to a maze of unpaved roads, ATV paths and grassy trails connecting houses on the ridge above.
“People that come out here like this, they’re independent, they’re self-reliant,” Wilson said. “But we can only be so dependent on ourselves.”
Wilson’s grandfather and great-grandmother acquired a large cabin by the North Fork 84 years ago, when people drew drinking water from the stream with a pulley and a bucket.
To reach the cabin now, he and Brandenberger scrambled down another steep hill from the ridge to the stream.
The road that passed by the cabin is nonexistent but for the culvert beneath it. In both directions, water and boulders have replaced pavement. Tree branches, sand and other debris have piled up around Wilson’s cabin.
But the flood stopped at its base. Even the deck is intact, the chairs on it undisturbed.