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ColoPressAssn
May 21, 2015 Vol. 14 No. 26
City envisions turning flood damage into park
Written by Jeanne Davant   

Congratulations Graduates!

052115_MSHS_Abigail-Chapman 052115_MSHS_AmberCarr 052115_MSHS_Aidan-Turnis-Epstein
052115_MSHS_Hat-Toss

The Manitou Springs High School held its commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2015 last Sunday, May 17.

Top, Abigail Chapman, class valedictorian, addresses her classmates and the audience. Second from top, Amber Carr gives the In Remembrance speech. Third from top, Aidan Epstein celebrates after receiving his diploma. Bottom, the Class of 2015 celebrate the conclusion of the ceremonies by tossing their mortar boards into the air.

Photos by Travis Lowell

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The Williams Canyon flood channel will help prevent flood damage to Manitou Springs, but few people would describe it as beautiful.

But what if future flood control improvements could double as trails and park features that would restore the beauty of upper Williams Canyon?

Flood Recovery Manager Shelley Cobau presented that vision to City Council on Tuesday, along with a plan to apply for federal grant funding to make it a reality.

Noting that the historic entrance to Cave of the Winds and the access road above the completed Williams Canyon flood channel have been destroyed by flooding, Cobau approached Cave of the Winds manager Grant Carey about partnering with the city and El Paso County to develop a park on 120 acres in upper Williams Canyon.

052115_Canon_Ruxton_12Cobau said a detention plan for the area upstream from the Williams Canyon channel is vital to prevent hundreds of tons of rock and debris from washing down into the new channel.

But that debris also could be used as the raw materials for flood control structures that could also serve as trails, picnic areas and wildlife habitat.

Attractive plunge pools, small dams and walls could be created that would slow flood waters. Embankments could serve as trails, and the trail could be restored through the Narrows portion of Williams Canyon.

Flood walls constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps could be salvaged and reused, preserving the history of the area. It would even be possible to disguise a retention structure as an amphitheater and create flattened ponding areas that function as picnic sites, Cobau said.

052115_Canon_Ruxton_8As she began thinking about a plan for the upper canyon area, Cobau wondered why upstream detention had not been proposed and “was told that Cave of the Winds wouldn’t work with us,” Cobau said.

But she found Carey was receptive; Cobau hiked the area with Carey, Isaac Brisk, the city’s heavy-equipment manager, and Ryan Keene, Manitou’s stormwater manager. She also talked extensively with the project managers from Wright Water Engineers who worked on Phases I and II of the Williams Canyon project.

Although a project of this scope will face implementation challenges including environmental clearances, access, long-term maintenance and buy-ins from partners including Cave of the Winds and El Paso County, the benefits will include greater downstream safety, connectivity with other trails and the reopening of a spectacular recreational area that hasn’t been accessible to the public for a long time.

“It becomes a mutually beneficial situation,” Carey said. “This is the first time there has been a can-do, cooperative attitude.”

“People had many reasons why we couldn’t get this done,” Mayor Marc Snyder said. “I love taking what’s a threat and turning it into an amenity.”

Council is expected next week to formally greenlight what would become Phase IV of the Williams Canyon flood control project. Cobau is preparing documents to be submitted to the state May 29.

“It will take some work, but I think we will end up with a beautiful project,” Cobau said.