A Flood Ravaged Downtown Pueblo 100 Years Ago. Now, The Community Dedicates A New Arkansas River Levee

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Shanna Lewis for KRCC
Governor Jared Polis speaks during the remembrance of those who died in the 1921 Flood in Pueblo and dedication of the newly rebuilt Arkansas River levee. Just behind him is the new pedestrian suspension bridge and part of the levee, as well as the 4th Street traffic bridge.

Pueblo is remembering the victims of the flood that devastated the city a century ago. And on June 3, exactly 100 years later, celebrating its newly rebuilt Arkansas River levee. 

The original flood control structure was constructed after the deadly 1921 deluge. Repairs to bring the 2.8-mile long levee up to current FEMA standards began in 2014 and cost some $25 million.

Gov. Jared Polis was there and spoke about what the flood means to all Coloradans.

“We're showing that no matter what storm is on the horizon, no matter what we are hit with, you can't keep us down. We come out on the other side, even stronger, even better, for having weathered it together," he said. “To build a positive and lasting legacy out of the rubble, forging new paths in the century-long wake of the 1921 Pueblo flood. It takes the homegrown spirit of grit, perseverance, and sheer will to build on our progress.”

Pueblo County Commissioner Garrison Ortiz said it's a day to reflect and to harness the energy and the resiliency shown by Puebloans throughout the region’s history. 

“Pueblo is tough, we’re tough as steel, our resiliency as deep as any flood,” he said. ”Pueblo always comes back better and stronger than ever before.”

Shanna Lewis for KRCC
A new pedestrian suspension bridge connects the rebuilt Pueblo levee with the bike path on the other side of the Arkansas River.

The top of the levee now sports a walking trail, and a million-dollar pedestrian suspension bridge connects the trail to the bike path on the other side of the river.

Grants from the Colorado Department of Transportation and Department of Local Affairs paid for the bridge. Leaf-shaped shade structures, benches and bike racks will be added to the trail later this year.

It’s all part of a larger recreation plan that includes a second bridge, upgrades to the existing whitewater park and better access to the river from various neighborhoods.

Along with flood protection and outdoor fun, there’s also a cultural aspect to the levee. Artists covered the old concrete facing of the levee with huge murals over the years, like a giant outdoor art gallery. There were so many paintings that, taken as a whole, they held the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest outdoor mural.

The record was lost when the repairs began and the art was slowly destroyed. Now artists are once again turning the levee’s new concrete into a canvas.

The Pueblo Downtown Association and Pueblo Arts Alliance are hosting a celebration of the new levee on Saturday, June 5, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Activities will include a walk on the levee, actors telling the story of the 1921 flood and group drone photos on the new bridge.