Lyons flood victims share stories for historical collection

· May 21, 2014, 6:00 am
The town of Lyons in Boulder County looks different today than it did eight months ago, when massive floods devastated much of the small foothill town. 
While small coffee shops, corner markets, retail stores and restaurants in the downtown area appear to be functioning as usual, Mother Nature has left her mark on Lyons. Damage is still very apparent on many of the residential and business structures set back from the downtown area.
As residents move forward with restoring their homes and regaining normalcy, the Lyons Historical Society is collaborating with the Lyons Community Foundation, the Lyons Area Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Lyons on the Lyons Flood History Project
For the project, the Historical Society is gathering recorded stories, written accounts, photographs, news clippings, videos, emails, texts, drawings and art projects all in relation to the September 2013 floods. The aim is to create a comprehensive collection of memorabilia to be displayed in an exhibition at the town’s history museum, the Lyons Redstone Museum.
Curating a historical catalogue of the floods
People can submit their flood stories or artifacts online or by attending one of the public gathering events. The events are held every Sunday through June 22 at the Walt Self Senior Center in Lyons. 
The first public gathering event was held May 18, during which flood victims were invited to record their stories using high-quality equipment.
Helping organize and run these public gathering events is Priscilla Cohan, a local potter whose home and ceramics studio are in one of the areas of Lyons hit the hardest by the floods.
Cohan was away on a retreat in New Mexico during the three-day stretch of flooding and heavy rains. She recalls being back and forth on the phone with her housesitter and reading news online in an effort to try to grasp the scope of what was happening back at home.
“It was very unsettling,” Cohan says.
Once she did return to Colorado, Cohan could not get into Lyons. 
“It was utter shutdown, where the National Guard wouldn’t let anyone go in and out of town,” Cohan says. The artist waited days before she could access her neighborhood. 
It was only several weeks ago that Cohan was able to return to her home and begin the process of cleaning the accumulated mud.
Cohan’s story is one of hundreds recounting the frightening urgency with which the north and south St. Vrain rivers swept through Lyons. But Cohan says her story isn’t nearly as intense as her house-sitter’s or the others who were forced to evacuate their homes. 
“My housesitter has a remarkable story of being in my home, evacuating, rescuing my kitty,” Cohan says. “He really helped me out.” 
Because she didn’t experience those moments first-hand, Cohan felt compelled to help give those who were around through the destruction the opportunity to share their accounts. So she decided to get involved with the Lyons Flood History Project
“It was important to take a lead on gathering the history and putting it into a comprehensive collection for the history museum,” Cohan says.
LaVern Johnson is also one of the key players in the project. Johnson is on the town board and in charge of the Lyons Redstone History Museum, where the full collection will be housed starting in September. 
While Johnson’s home did not suffer significant damage, she does remember getting a call at 1:30 a.m. saying she had to evacuate. 
“We went down to the church and then the elementary school, people just kept pouring in,” Johnson says. “I stayed two days to help. Then the lights went out and we all had to leave town. We weren’t able to come back for a couple of weeks.”
Johnson adds that she heard a number of dramatic accounts, including people being helicoptered out of their homes and waking up to step out of bed into a foot of water. 
“We want to capture all of those stories,” Johnson says.
Community emerging from disaster 
The stories already shared by victims reveal a heightened sense of community that emerged in the wake of the floods.
Ruth Wilson is a painter that specializes in scenic watercolors. Wilson was the first contributor to share her story at the kick-of public gathering event on May 18. She moved to Lyons from New Jersey shortly before the devastating floods. 
Wilson’s voice shook with emotion as she recounted receiving the calls on Sept. 12, informing her that she needed to leave her home. Yet she spoke frequently about how everyone supported each other and how that helped make everything seem manageable.
“I got to know more people during the flood than I did perhaps my whole lifetime,” Wilson says. “We all banded together. I’ll almost miss it when everything gets back to normal.”
Johnson says there was a lot of camaraderie in Lyons especially during those initial months when the town was still without electricity and plumbing. 
While the project’s primary efforts are focused on Lyons, Johnson says she would like to see this feeling of community extend into some of the surrounding areas hit by flood damage, such as Jamestown, Drake and Pinewood Springs.
“We will focus most of our efforts on Lyons, but we definitely part of a network,” Cohan says, explaining their will be catalogues within the collection for the surrounding towns. “We are all partners going through this together.” 
An ongoing project
The gathering events culminate with a large-scale exhibition at the Lyons Redstone Museum in September to mark the one-year anniversary of the floods. However, both Johnson and Cohan say they envision this as an ongoing project. Eventually they would like to publish the collection in a book. 
“We will have an open collection since the experiences of the flood will keep going on for at least another decade as people rebuild and move back to town,” Cohan says.
Johnson adds that the entire process, from the actual floods to the recovery phase, has made a deep impact on everyone in the community. And she hopes people will continue to reach out to the Lyons Historical Society with stories, videos and artwork.
“We’re anxious to have people see what we suffered,” Johnson says. “People are going to be bewildered and aghast at the damage even eight months later.”
Both Johnson and Cohan say this project will highlight the perseverance and strength of Lyons, and hopefully – by reflecting on what they have overcome – help its residents move forward as they continue to rebuild the town.
Public gathering events for the Lyons Flood History Project continue 2 to 4 p.m. every Sunday through June 22 at the Walt Self Senior Center in Lyons, with a final event 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 28 at the 2014 Lyons Good Old Days Festival. The exhibition of the entire collection will be on display at the Lyons Redstone Museum in September 2014 to mark the one-year anniversary of the floods. For more information, visit

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