Colorado Springs cleanup crews had cleared much of the debris strewn along Cheyenne Canyon Road by Wednesday, when the city invited nearly a dozen reporters and photographers for a press tour of the washed-out paths, cracked roads and eroded landscapes of North Cheyenne Canon Park.
“Our public works department has been working diligently to stabilize the roads and make temporary repairs so we can eventually get [the park] back open,” said Karen Palus, director of Recreation and Cultural Services, adding that the park will be closed indefinitely.
The expedition began at 10:30 a.m. at the Parks and Recreation building just north of downtown, and from there the group was carted to the eastern tip of the canyon by way of 15-passenger van. Peering from the vehicle, first impressions were underwhelming: Cheyenne Canyon Road had been cleared of sediment in the days following the rain and most of the damage consisted of fallen trees, shifted soil overflowing water sources.
But the environmental impact seemed to grow as the van ascended the three miles of winding roadway.
“We have trees that have toppled over; we have trees that have slid down into trail ways; we have got rocks and large boulders; we’ve got sediment that has run off the mountain in different areas; so there are significant types of hazards along those trails,” she said. “We are seeing a lot of water coming from and through areas we have not seen before, and so that has loosened up a lot of the gravel and a lot of the soil ….”
She said that $300,000 of the $4.4 million in park repair estimates will likely go to work in the canyon. Other park closures include Harlan Wolfe Park, a span of north Greenway Trail, Sinton Trail, north Garden of the Gods and Palmer Park.
“Palmer Park is still closed, but out hope is that we have that opened by the weekend,” Palus said.
The troupe went on to Helen Hunt Falls, which was bursting water with incredible intensity. According to U.S. Geologic Survey estimates, Cheyenne Creek was flowing at nearly 200 times its typical speed of 2 cubic feet per second — and the Falls were gushing at around 225 cfs.
The trip peaked at the junction of High Drive — blocked by metal gate and makeshift culvert — and Gold Camp Road — with serious erosion throughout and a portion that was completely washed away between the first and second tunnels — both of which were too treacherous for travel.
“We continue to see areas that are eroding,” she said. “It is a constant battle right now.”
Palus ended the trek with a brief press conference near the washed-out and heavily damaged entrance to Seven Falls, which is privately owned and therefore not included in the parks system. She said that Public Works has focused much of their time and attention on areas with lesser damage with intent to open those sites before attempting to tackle massive projects such as restoring the collapsed span of Gold Camp Road.
“With the magnitude of our parks systems, we have a lot of users who are out there using areas that are safe,” she said. “We’re trying to make [the canyon] as safe as possible before we open it back up.”