As the Colorado group wraps up our week of Service & Solidarity with a few new scratches, a couple of sore backs and a lifetime of memories, we take time to reflect on a phrase that has new meaning: "Mountain Strong!" Since Tuesday, we have been fortunate to visit the community of Glen Haven, located "off the beaten path" on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park, but now at the center of our hearts.
Driving to Glen Haven brings to life the all-encompassing scope of the floods that tore through this region last September. Passing through deep canyons surrounded by rock, the flood's wrath tore apart roads and homes – and lives in the process. Piles of debris sit at the roadside, awaiting convoys of removal crews. Homes on the far side of the river hang precariously over the bank in some spots, inaccessible since the torrent of water scoured hundreds of feet of soil and rock away.
We were all struck by the almost indescribable beauty of the area juxtaposed with the overwhelming loss of homes, farmland and natural habitat.
Yet we were overwhelmed by the courage, compassion and fortitude of those that we met.
Via temporary dirt roads winding through canyons and passing over washed out bridges, we found our way to the Glen Haven firehouse on Tuesday morning for the first time. The main street held only remnants of what was a thriving small community: a heavily damaged general store remained one of the few buildings still standing. Before the flood there were some twelve buildings lining the road. Now, just two remain.
Inside the firehouse we found a coordinated effort to rebuild Glen Haven thanks to many of its own residents and volunteers from surrounding communities. Our sixteen sets of hands were put to quick use, helping to clear an astonishing amount of debris from the homes and yards of Glen Haven residents who has been unable to return home since the floodwater rose.
The water swept through this quiet canyon with such force that a tranquil stream – flowing this week with no more than a foot of water – dislodged a house from its foundation next door to our primary work site. Trees hurtled downstream, coming to rest in massive tangled piles that even heavy equipment struggles to remove. In many of the homes, water rose several feet into the basement or first floor, destroying furnaces, living space and a frustrating amount of personal possessions.
The scale of what needs to be done is overwhelming. Yet, we heard more than once from our community organizers that they know Glen Haven will come back stronger.
So, the next time you find yourself in Colorado, take a drive up the Big Thompson Canyon to County Road 43 and make your way to meet some of the most genuine, hard working and caring people that you'll ever find: the residents and friends of the community of Glen Haven.