Neighborhood destroyed in flood remembered through donation to Botanic Gardens
Before the September 2013 flood, there was a neighborhood tucked along the South St. Vrain Creek between CO Highway 7 and 4th Avenue, south of Prospect Street. This pocket of land hosted 13 mobile homes of the Foothills Mobile Home Park, two wooden cabins, and a house close to the highway set among trees. These structures are all completely gone now, casualties of flood damage, and this area is now the growing Rocky Mountain Botanic Gardens. The Gardens is a local nonprofit guided by a mission “to foster an understanding and an appreciation of our Rocky Mountain native plants and wildlife, and to create a place where Lyons locals and all visitors to the garden of all ages can learn and enjoy the peace and beauty of the natural world.” Mary Hunt, a former resident of the Foothills Mobile Home Park donated a red sandstone bench to the Gardens. Her generous gift forges a link to the land’s past.
Mary Hunt and her late husband Don first moved to Lyons in 1974. At that time they lived on Riverbend Trail Ct., by the bend of the North St. Vrain River, where Wee Casa Tiny Homes resort is now. Don owned a business on High Street, a laundromat called The Wash House. Mary, meanwhile, worked at Longmont United Hospital. The Hunts then moved to Longmont in 1978. When they retired, they wanted to come back to Lyons. So, they moved into the maroon-trimmed mobile home unit at 100 4th Ave, Space 8 at Foothills Mobile Home Park. The Hunts lived there from 1994 to 2008…14 years. They were involved in the senior community, and helped formed the Lyons Golden Gang.
In 2008, they moved into a senior living apartment in Longmont to be closer to the doctors that Don needed to see weekly. Their grandson, Joshua, and his wife Kelly lived in the home from 2008 until the flood. Don passed away. Mary Hunt has come back several times to visit the site where her home was to see its transition from a heap of dirt and catastrophe into a botanic garden.
The Hunts kept a spectacular garden. Don’s specialty was growing irises, especially the Rocky Mtn. blue ones, which he would dig up and share with admiring friends and neighbors. Their yard had every inch of space filled with plants, with color spilling out into the alley, brightening the days of countless passersby. With his grandson, Don installed a pond complete with fish and splendid water lilies. The Botanic Gardens’ board president Garima Fairfax remembers Don’s thoughtfulness in his work with plants, and speaking gardener to gardener.
Garima recalls one encounter when “he showed me a stone walkway he had just fixed. There was a tree right next to his stone path, and a large tree root had raised up the stones. So he dug up the stones, then dug down below the root and gradually weighed and pushed the root down until it left plenty of room for the stones, and he replaced them. Most folks I think would have just taken out the root, but he did it right.”
At the time of the flood, at least 37 people were living in this pocket of town based on Town of Lyons records. This group of people, along with so many others in Lyons and nearby communities, was displaced. The homes were crushed by the waters and filled with feet of mud. In the aftermath of the flood, the park owner took the buyout from the federal government, who razed the lot. It was given to the Town, along with 25 other lots. The federal flood buy-out program has terms forbidding future building.
The budding Rocky Mountain Botanic Gardens non-profit group was searching for years for a site. They applied for use of the flooded site, and the Town granted them permission to use the land for a garden. This purpose is in keeping with the spirit of using town land for the benefit of the community. An outdoor garden also fits easily within the restrictions of floodplain land use – no buildings required.
Signs of the past have cropped up often over the past two years of work at the Botanic Gardens. Volunteers were clearing weeds, building paths, mulching beds and planting. Reflecting on what it has been like to garden on a site that used to be people’s homes, Fairfax says, “First are the items we dig up – a screwdriver, a stroller, a bicycle, an answering machine, beads, CD’s, homemade stepping stones, colorful rocks, and garden flowers. Each of these brings with it the feeling that this was a loved home for someone, and that, although they have moved on, so many of their things remain in the earth below the (Botanic) garden.”
And connecting to past residents isn’t all archaeology for Fairfax, “Sometimes someone will come visit the garden when we are working, telling us they used to live there, and how beautiful it was, what a great community of people they were. Many tell us that they love that it will now be a garden open to the community. And we think so, too.”
Rick DiSalvo and Garima Fairfax did the early prep work in installing the Hunt bench, digging holes, laying cement and putting together the base. These two would never dream of delaying a project until spring, so they also did a fair amount of trouble-shooting the behavior of epoxy in subfreezing temperatures, and working between snow falls. Western Stone Company in Lyons built the bench.
Working closely with Mary Hunt, Cathy Rivers volunteered her time and talents to design the bench engraving. Her design celebrates the Hunts’ old home and garden, and Don’s particular love of irises. Rivers misses having the Hunts in Lyons and was glad to work on the project for “such darling, generous, special people.” Rivers also thinks “Don would be very pleased with RMBG and the bench.”
Members of the Lyons Volunteers, a local group founded in the wake of the flood, installed the Hunts’ bench: Rick DiSalvo, Mike Karavas, Rolf Hertenstein, and Mark Browning. They finished the final step, affixing the heavy top to the base, on December 9, 2020.
The Lyons Garden Club, a sister organization in making Lyons bloom, donated a second red sandstone bench to the Botanic Gardens earlier in the year. The Lyons Garden Club is responsible for pockets of color planted all over town, guided by their mission “to beautify Lyons one flower at a time.” The Lyons Volunteers also installed that bench. It came from local stone company Lyons Sandstone, engraved by Charles Mason at Boulder Works, Inc. Thanks to the generosity of these neighbors, visitors will now be able to rest mid-stroll as they admire the flowers.
The Botanic Gardens volunteers later hosted Mary Hunt when she visited in spring, and thanked her in person. The Board of Directors also gave thanks. She loved seeing her bench surrounded by wildflowers and tall grass in the Prairie section of the gardens, which is by the current entrance to the Botanic Gardens. Volunteers continued planting in the garden beds in the spring and summer of 2021, along with various improvements, upkeep, and plenty of weeding. This included installing saplings and larger trees, and sandstone signs indicating the name of each garden area.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:==========
The Rocky Mountain Botanic Gardens website: www.rmbg.org or Facebook page. Volunteers and Donors appreciated.
The gardens are located between 4th Ave. and Highway 7 and between Prospect St. and the South St. Vrain Creek.
There is free public parking nearby.
The Gardens plan on giving tours periodically – the last one was August 21, 2021.
To donate to support next year’s plantings, checks can be sent to:
Rocky Mountain Botanic Gardens, P.O. Box 613, Lyons, CO 80540.
FLOOD BUY OUTS===========
It is important to understand that FEMA does not buy houses directly from the property owners. Acquisition or Buyout projects, while 75 percent funded by FEMA, are administered by the state and local communities. FEMA only aids victims with a minimum sum to help them do basic recovery.
Buy–out programs are administered by the local emergency management agency. Property buyouts are a means by which communities can remove development from areas vulnerable to flooding, reducing future risks, by purchasing properties from willing owners. The Buy-Out is based on current market value.