By Ken Singer
We bought our house on Apple Valley Road in September 2012, did renovations, and made the move from New Jersey in July 2013. For the ten idyllic weeks before the flood, we enjoyed the house, the community, and the river. In the weeks leading up to the flood, when we told people we lived on the river on Apple Valley Road, the typical response was “Oh, you are so lucky.” Immediately after the flood, the
response was more likely to be “Oh, I’m so sorry.” I would tell them that it wasn’t their fault for the flood.
I went to bed around 10 p.m., that night. Around 2 a.m., Sandy, my wife who had been monitoring the river all day and into the night, woke me saying tensely, “The river is way high. Either you have to talk me down, or we need to get out of here.” I asked, “Did you hear the siren go off?”
Just then, the loudspeaker warned, “Seek higher ground immediately. Flooding is imminent.” We wrestled the two cats into the cat carrier, grabbed some meds for me, and drove the car up to the Hall ranch parking lot on Antelope.
We were joined by some neighbors, also from along the river. The next few rainy hours were filled with uncertainty and rumors. Was Button Rock Dam in danger of failing? It would unleash a fifty-foot wall of water, according to one of our neighbors who had lived here much longer than we had. I quickly calculated that the parking lot on Antelope at the trailhead was much more than fifty feet above the river. That was a bit of a relief... but what was going on down below with our beloved house located a mere ten yards or so from the river in normal times?
At dawn, we drove down Antelope and were distressed to see the river had indeed flooded the previously wide, green fields. We had no idea whether our house, which is so close to the river, had been flooded. We were stunned when we saw that the water had reached the door sills of the lower level of our house and we could see it rise as we watched.
The river was blasting through and carrying away our neighbor’s land. We saw his ancient, massive willow tree collapse into the torrent. Our trees that had stood on the sloping bank were already gone. The higher lawn that the former owners had laboriously maintained green with the pump in the river was eroding rapidly and our lovely apple, locust and cottonwood trees and glorious lilac bushes, that we had never gotten to see bloom, were torn out by the raging current and swept downstream. It was like watching an iceberg calve. Who would have thought that land that was high above the water would just collapse and disappear? As we watched, the river began taking down the utility poles and then began eating away the pavement of Apple Valley Road itself!
Our phone land line cut out that morning. Since cell service is pretty poor on Apple Valley, we looked for someone with a working phone. We walked upstream along the road, encountering neighbors who seemed just as awe-struck or in shock as we were. An older woman from upstream who seemed terribly confused had crossed on a narrow ledge above the torrent also looking for a working phone. She made a call to her daughter in another state to say she was alright but was determined to get back to her home despite warnings from others that it was unsafe to head back. We left without knowing whether she went back across the swift-moving waters of the North St. Vrain.
We received several offers to stay with neighbors on the uphill side of the road on the second night. Since the possibility of a Button Rock Dam collapse was still the rumor of the day, we took the offer of Jim and Donna Stonebraker to come to their house on Antelope which was well above the threat of a huge wall of water. We had not met prior to that day; their easy hospitality was very comforting and reassuring. Up on the hill, we could no longer hear the disturbing roar of the river and could pretend things were “normal,” and that it was all just a bad dream. But it was all too real.
On Friday, the National Guard arrived in big wheeled trucks and called a meeting of Apple Valley residents ready to evacuate the road. Notably, we were the only residents of Apple Valley at that meeting on the road who opted to be taken out. I had run out of one of my heart medications and naively asked the paramedic with them if they could deliver it from the Safeway pharmacy in Longmont. “No way,” she said and added, “If I were you, I’d take them up on their offer” to leave. So, we were the only people (plus two cats) on the “deuce and a half” big wheel truck. Seeing the scope of the devastation of the downstream end of Apple Valley for the first time from the back of that truck was crushing and unbelievable.
When we left Apple Valley that day, we assumed the river would continue to erode our land and that the house itself was going downstream, maybe to Nebraska or Kansas. We said goodbye to the home we had loved for the ten weeks prior to the flood; the home we had planned to live in for the rest of our lives. A couple days later, a cousin in Massachusetts emailed us a link to a video shot from the air on Sunday. It appeared from the video that the house was still standing!
So, after many months of structural repairs, living from place to place (six weeks at the kids’ in Boulder, seven weeks in the garage apartment of Tom and Charlette Moran across the road until the sewer line froze, then back to our kids’ house for another six weeks, and finally, for six months back to New Jersey for open heart surgery) we came back to Lyons in June 2014. The postal service was threatening us with “just one more address change.” But we’re not complaining.
We had a nice purple port-a-potty we called the “Purple Palace.” We showered, washed dishes, did laundry, and got water from our son and daughter in law’s house just a half hour away. We stayed until November’s below zero temperatures, and decided that we would move to our kid’s new house in Lafayette since we had no heat except for a wood stove and two electric space heaters. We stayed there until the new septic system (courtesy of a Boulder County grant) was put in and the water was connected in March. All that was needed to move back was a connection to the gas line for heat. That finally happened April 8. We moved back in at that time; 574 days after the flood, but who’s counting?
Before deciding to relocate to Lyons, we had lived the previous thirty-six years in a beautiful Delaware River town of 4000 people in New Jersey. The town had three “hundred-year floods” in five years, but we were two hundred feet above the river so we weren’t affected much. We didn’t have to lock our doors there or here. Our Lyons neighbors, even before the flood, were incredibly friendly. The community spirit and resilience since the flood has been affirming and inspirational. We were overwhelmed by the generosity and spirit of the many volunteers after the flood and still are, even today, four years later.
When we tell people we live on Apple Valley and they express sympathy for us, we stop them and let them know we are SO fortunate to have rebuilt our home. Our hearts go out to all our Apple Valley and Lyons neighbors who were affected by the flood, and especially those who no longer have a home to return to. And we will be forever grateful to all our neighbors, friends, family, federal and county officials, and volunteers who supported us through this life-altering experience.
We are proud to be part of “Lyons Strong.”