Weathering the storm

A house and roadway in Jamestown, shown Sept. 15, were two of the hundred of properties and roadways damaged by the flooding. Photo by Steve Zumwalt/FEMA

The recent flooding hit Colorado businesses hard, causing millions of dollars in damage and forcing many to shut their doors for days — and in some cases, weeks — after the waters surged through towns along the Front Range, altering the landscape dramatically and forcing closures of open space areas, parks and trails.

For those whose business is the outdoors, the impact will be much farther reaching.

The level of debris and muck mixed with water essentially asphyxiated large numbers of fish. Many  waterways were dramatically altered, some rendered entirely unfishable. Those that are still accessible have seen a redistribution fish species, meaning guides and fishermen will have to relearn everything about the channels they knew intimately.

Fewer than 10 of Boulder County’s 50 trails were open without restrictions as of Friday, Sept. 27, nearly two weeks after the flooding. Officials have estimated that it will take months to restore the trails to their pre-flooding states.

Popular outdoor tourism destinations like Estes Park are virtually unreachable to tourists, with both U.S. 36 and 34 closed until at least Dec. 1. The fall is usually a time of prosperity for tourism in the town, with the changing of the Aspens and elk-bugling drawing visitors from all over the country.

“I work for two companies in Estes Park, and they have zero work for me,” said Bernardo Beteta, a Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides employee.

Beteta, who regularly works for six outdoor companies, including as a climbing instructor for Boulder Rock Club climbing gym, has been able to get enough work to keep his income at nearly normal levels, but some of his friends have not been so lucky, he said.

“Many of my peers, who are guides as well, are applying to FEMA for aid because they cannot get work,” Beteta said.

Denver Channel 7 News reported that half of Estes Park’s nearly 6,000 residents are employed in jobs directly relating to tourism.

Even in less hard-hit areas, gigs have dried up for guides who typically work for several companies to patch together a liveable income.

Guide Bennett Barthelemy said work from other guide companies in Boulder has definitely slowed since the flooding. Fortunately, Barthelemy said, he has been able to pick up extra work from CWRAG. Some of the company’s employees, dealing with flooding at their homes, have been cutting back on their hours.

CWRAG owner Joshua Baruch said most of his guides made it through the flooding relatively unscathed, as did the company as a whole.

A half dozen trips the week of the flooding had to be canceled, including trips to Longs Peak and a bike tour along Boulder Creek Path. Others, such as outdoor rock climbing sessions, had to be moved to a nearby climbing gym.

Still, Baruch said, the company got lucky.

“I had some equipment stored at Crystal’s (ski shop) that I was planning on moving on Wednesday, but I just didn’t,” Baruch said. “If I had moved it to the storage unit on 22nd (in hard-hit downtown Boulder), $200,000 worth of gear would have been destroyed.”

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