Colorado’s pre-summer snowpack is best described as epic right now. In the arid West, that’s the best news anyone could hope for — except for one problem.
Sudden and heavy snowmelt could flood Henson Creek in remote Hinsdale County and endanger the county’s lone town of Lake City. The first casualty of that threat is a dam from the state’s mining boom days.
Hidden Treasure Dam was breached decades ago and Henson Creek has flowed freely through it ever since, said Michael Davis, a county spokesman. The worry is runoff from the heavy snowpack could grab debris from this winter’s unprecedented number of avalanches and clog the dam and collapse what’s left of it.
“This includes fully grown, mature pine trees, 60 feet tall, giant boulders, soil, etc.,” Davis said, “until it reached a pressure that it was no longer capable of sustaining.”
Water and rubble could then rush toward Lake City. Instead, they are demolishing the dam while at the same time the process is photographed for posterity. The structure dates back to the 1890s and is one of the last precious remnants of a long-gone mining community.
The sacrifice of a piece of history is seen as needed.
It’s also costly. A federal emergency recovery program stepped up to pay most of the $1 million price tag. The rest will be shared between Hinsdale and the state of Colorado. Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency in May.
The Hinsdale Unified Coordination Group has worked to get ahead of the predicted runoff deluge. They recently coordinated volunteers from across the state to help fill 15,000 pre-emptive sandbags.
“We've had people from schools, law enforcement, firefighters, church organizations, and they just really wanted to come in and help the people in the community in any way that they could,” Davis said. “It’s been pretty heartwarming to watch.”
He thinks this vibrant outpouring is due to the special place Lake City holds in the hearts of many Coloradans. Davis said some families have been coming to this remote little spot for generations to hike, camp and explore in off-road vehicles. If the worst were to occur, then “there would be a great deal lost, a great deal more than just the physical structure of the town.”
There’s also another possible disaster for Lake City: People might become too afraid to visit. While there is a potential threat of flooding as the temperatures rise, he said, the beautiful little spot is not in danger for the time being.
He wants everyone to know that Lake City is open for business.
“This community is totally dependent on tourism for their income. And so the little businesses, the shops, the hotels, restaurants, they have one opportunity to make their annual income.”