About a hundred residents of Pinewood Springs gathered in front of the Pinewood Springs Fire station on Saturday, September 16, 2023… a bittersweet moment, reminding many of them of the many times they gathered there in September 2013 to hear the latest news about the damage done by the Great Flood of 2013. Both the north and south Highway 36 roads were damaged, with large pieces of asphalt falling into the river, and no cars could use them. Government officials were sent in by helicopter to help, and updating them on conditions. Eventually, the residents had three options: (1.) to exit by military helicopters to shelters (or friends) in Longmont (2.) take a resident’s trail over their property in the mountains to the Spring Gulch area, mainly using high-clearance or 4×4 vehicles (3.) remain in your home, with no electricity, water or internet. The majority left by helicopter with a small bag (and some with their pet). Eventually the roads were opened, and residents needed to show passes of residency, and travel in between construction crews during limited time periods, experiencing long lines and waits.
I lived in Pinewood Springs at the time and being a journalist, I contacted the Lyons Recorder editors and asked them to not forget coverage of Pinewood and Big Elk in their newspaper reports on the flood. They agreed and asked if I could help write articles covering the situation. I was too traumatized to write about what I was experiencing in Pinewood, and I found another journalist (Lee Williams) in town who agreed to write an article. I chose to write about Big Elk’s experience, with their dams breaking and flooding the small town. I wrote it in a timeline fashion, eg, stating “At 12:07 a.m. the fire department got the first phone call from a resident…” … “At 12:22 a.m. two firefighters started climbing water-filled ditches to knock on resident’s doors….”
This year, on Saturday, September 16, 2023, the Pinewood Springs Fire District put on an event, open to all, to hear about the trauma experienced, rescues, and community meetings that happened in those early weeks and months. Some estimate that almost half the people there were not living in Pinewood at the time. Fire Chief Ted Plank gave some details, but he left it to the then Chief in charge, Andrew Lucas. And, it ended with a social gathering, around lots of bbq sandwiches from Smokin’ Daves, side dishes, and cookies from Colorado Cherry Company. Residents exchanged stories and offer condolences, updates and/or congratulations.
“We had purchased our home in February 2013,” said Christine Zucker Swanger, “and the flood brought us closer to our neighbors who we really didn’t know at that point. Since those days, we’ve developed good friendships with several of them.” Kids also enjoyed face painting and balloon art creation, roaming magician, and open fire trucks. It was hosted by the Pinewood Spring Fire Protection District and the Pinewood Springs POA (with special thanks to Laura Levy Group).
Geri Plank appeared on two lists — Big Elk specifically nominated Geri for baking home-made foods when they had nothing to cook on, and she did other manual work. — Back in Pinewood Springs:
“Geri Plank opened the doors to the Colorado Cherry Company, where people could donate food to share with other residents, the freezer to keep food for residents, to share, and her arms for anyone needing a hug. Ted Plank was instrumental in the Organized Recovery Task Force. Both Geri and Ted (and their sweet dog and now puppy Chinook) were warm, welcoming and very helpful to the residents of Pinewood Springs, after the flood.” ……….by Diana Paxton.
Ted Plank, her husband, was a lieutenant volunteer firefighter at the time. The current Assistant Chief Andrew Lucas was the Incident Commander and ran the meetings as well as directing the entire effort for the Fire Department.
Laura Levy was manager for the temporary Larimer County Long Term Recovery Group office; but I mention her here because she also set up a Facebook page for Pinewood Springs residents so they could keep in touch with each other, and know what the developments were in town. (notes by Kathleen Spring)
BIG ELK MEADOWS: 5 dams broke; no water, power or phones; people initially sheltered in the firehouse; Engine 4901 dead; 108 evacuated; 32 stayed. Day 58 power returned, and Day 94 roads were opened for a few hours daily; Day 235 most phones restored. (See separate ARTICLE).
The community of Big Elk nominated an overwhelming number of people, which appears to include almost every citizen.
==Donna Stricklin Compton was the most nominated, including this one by Laura Levy: She never left during the flood, lived there without water or power for months… and communicated to the outside world on behalf of Big Elk // and she has developed a Facebook page that is like a “historic archives”!
LITTLE THOMPSON RIVER
Warren Musselman took the first above photo of the Little Thompson River as it moved toward Pinewood Springs. He said, “This little 1′ wide x 6″ deep stream was snapping off 2″ thick trees in minutes.” Leaf Isher added, “You could hear huge boulders rolling on the bottom of the river. It sounded like thunder coming up from the ground.”
The second photo is of “the Tubs” which is normally a stream seen between some large boulders. Warren said, “This would be The Tubs… normally 1′ wide and 6″ deep… and 50′ below the viewpoint. That prominent pine tree quivered for a few minutes and then disappeared with a crack. I believe this was during one of the dam surges.” And the 3rd photo he says: “Normally, the water is about 40′ or 50′ below the pine tree in the center. In this shot it is about 3′ below the overlook.”
Photo is of the Seneca Dr. bridge after the first two Big Elk Meadows dam breaks. The bridge survived. Warren Musselman is talking to a neighbor about “trying to clear some of the trees.”
KIOWA /CRESCENT LAKE BRIDGE
This is the bridge that takes cars from the main street Kiowa to what is often referred to as the Island part of Pinewood. The one lane road would be rebuilt as two-lanes and much higher off the river.
==Kim Nesnadny: The origin of “Kiowa Island:”
There used to be a one lane bridge on Kiowa at Crescent Lake. Some of us who lived past the bridge had faith that the little bridge could withstand the force of the raging river in Sept 2013. After all, the bridge had been there for a long time and was still going strong. Not only did the water take out the bridge, but it washed away countless trees in its path. We spent the next 8 days with no power, running water, electricity or phones, watching propane tanks and hot tub parts (and who knows what else) rush down the river, before evacuating. The sound of crashing trees and rolling boulders was impressive. The neighbors came together in the most wonderful of ways, sharing food and fuel and checking in on one another. We cooked on grills and woodstoves, and collected rainwater for plumbing and drinking. We were fortunate to return home after a couple of months (unbelievable!). Some hearty souls stayed. There are no words to thank the multitude people who tirelessly worked to restore our beautiful neighborhood.
=== RESIDENT COMMENTS
When Looking at the PHOTOS of the big rapids crashing down the bridge:=== Warren Musselman says, “The Kiowa road bridge at Crescent Lake. GONE! A few hours later the 25 ton concrete pier was about 50 yards downstream to the right.” === Diana Paxton: We actually did drive over this with my Pathfinder and parked it at the Pinewood Springs Fire Protection District. By the time we walked back , the bridge had just washed away. Took us 3 +/- hours to walk through the forest to get home on Kiowa Island. We walked through many raging new “streams” coming down the mountain.===Evan Jones: You can still see the makeshift road that was cut through our yard to join Cree Ct and Kiowa Rd and allow folks on Kiowa Island to get in and out.
Gerry Pearson collects precipitation data for three weather outlets, and she recorded the following rain amounts during the 2013 Flood. “Here are our readings for the total event through the 15th, when we walked out of Pinewood Springs up to the road to Big Elk, where we met our grandson, who had driven to there to get us to leave. It was raining then. We don’t have the reading for the whole day of the 15th.”
September 8 =.01
September 9 =.82
September 10 =.66
September 11 =4.29
September 12 =7.04
September 13 =.28
September 14 =.18
September 15 =1.74
Lyons was said to have gotten 17 inches of rain during that disastrous rainfall. Plus Pinewood was hit by the water from five dams that burst north of them. A slow and heavy rainfall hit the Front Range, mainly on September 12th, the majority falling in a 30 hour period, from the 11th to the 12th. It broke state records for rainfall in September. It is called the “100 Year Flood” because the chance of it happening, based on statistics, is one in 100.
NOTE: See Also ARTICLE on nearby Big Elk Meadows, and the 5 dams that broke that day.
Here is an INDEX of all 26 articles published in September 2023.