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Glen Haven Stays ‘Hillbilly Tough’ Amid Slow Recovery

Grace Hood
After losing its town hall, the new focal point of this tight-knit community is the fire station.

More than 100 days have passed since floodwaters rampaged across Colorado. There has been some rebuilding. In remote communities like Glen Haven, residents are weighing fierce independence with severe destruction — and a dire need for help.

Before the floods, hundreds used to live year-round in this unincorporated town just up Devils Gulch Road from Estes Park. As you drive down Glen Haven’s main drag, you quickly see that few have been able to move back.

The new focal point of this tight-knit community is the fire station. A large white banner hangs near the door that reads “Glen Haven: Hillbilly Tough.” The station is a depot for the latest news since the water damaged the main town hall, which floated into the General Store.

Just like in the immediate aftermath of the flood in other mountain towns, infrastructure is a challenge. Unlike those places, the challenge remains.

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC
A scene of the destruction on Fox Creek Road. Power has yet to be restored, and many residents can't move home because the road conditions are poor.

“There’s no phone service, no cell phone reception, no Internet, I’d be a mile from the next person by myself and some days I’d have to walk out or get an ATV,” explained Joan Van Horn, a resident working to raise money for the ongoing flood repairs.

The trouble in Glen Haven is that most homes are on private roads, meaning they aren't eligible for federal aid or county assistance.

Road Damage Adds Up

Given the state of the roads, seeing the devastation up close required an 8-wheel all-terrain vehicle. Longtime resident Steve Childs was the guide and offered some additional perspective.

“Here’s where you really start to see the damage along Fox Creek,” Childs said as the ATV bounces along the uneven road. “Some trees down, some brush, some disturbed stuff.”

The typically small Fox Creek became a raging river during the September rain. Charting a new course, it stripped away the foundations from some homes, while completely destroying others.

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC
The earth underneath this tree near Fox Creek Road was nearly washed away by the flood waters.

At least one demolished car is still upended in the creek bed.

Overall, about 21 miles of private roads were damaged throughout Larimer County. Repairs could cost $3-$5 million.

And as of now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has said no to rebuilding aid. Larimer County Commissioners are appealing the FEMA ruling. They’ve also applied for community block grant dollars that could be used to help fix some of the private roads.

“If FEMA — the federal government — can’t help us, and the county because of mandate can’t come help us, what are 200-400 people supposed to do?" asked Childs. "Are we all supposed to abandon our properties and move out because the road’s private? I don’t think that’s reasonable either.”

Why Rebuild?

Back at the fire station, the self sufficiency and determination of displaced residents is on full display. Inside there are fundraising T-shirts and bumper stickers that say “Glen Haven Strong.”

All the hard work with fundraising and soliciting donations is starting to pay off. Last week Colorado car dealerships donated a brand new pickup truck to Glen Haven's Fire Department to help volunteers navigate the town's back roads.

“Before the flood we were a strong community, we were a caring community. We were not a together community,” said Tony Fink, who continues to visit the fire station even though he can’t live in his home. “We’re a much more caring community, and we’re all on the same page. We’re all in this together.”


But along with the enthusiasm comes the criticism. Steve Childs, who owns the Glen Haven General Store, says he’s often asked “Why rebuild at all?”

“Why do they rebuild every year after the annual hurricane in Florida? Or right now in California where they’re having wildfires every single year. Those people rebuild. Why? It’s where you choose to live. It’s where you’ve invested your future. It’s where you’ve spent your money — your blood, sweat and tears. It’s home.”

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