The Human Connection at Castlewood Canyon

Colorado Parks and Wildlife volunteers and staff share behind-the-scenes stories from Castlewood Canyon state park.

One Magical Moment

Volunteer Experience Story by Linda Pohle, Castlewood Canyon Volunteer since 2000

125th Anniversary Logo

“I have experienced many magical moments while volunteering. One occurred while I was attacking a large invasive Canada thistle patch with another volunteer in the summer of 2021. As we moved into a more wooded area, I noticed a hummingbird excitedly flying around a tree just ahead of me. I stopped to watch. And, then, to my astonishment and joy, the hummer settled on its nest on a branch of the tree it had been flying around! We spotted two tiny white eggs in the nest when the female briefly flew off. I grabbed my camera and managed a couple of photos without disturbing the hummer (a Broad-tail, I believe) as she rested on her beautiful, well-camouflaged, and lichen-dotted nest. It truly was one of the most magical moments I’ve ever had as a volunteer. The anticipation of more of these moments keeps me coming back as a volunteer year after year.

What a Great Find

Volunteer Experience Story by Pam Steinman, Castlewood Canyon Volunteer since 2014

cutting tool and prehistoric arrow point
Artifacts were discovered at Castlewood Canyon State Park.

“While weeding a field on the west side, Bev Finamore and I happened upon an area littered with broken glass. We were picking up the glass pieces and found two ancient artifacts. I contacted geologist Tom Michalski, who put me in touch with an archaeologist, Reid Farmer, RPA. Below is Reid’s reply to my request for information:

‘The artifact on the left appears to be a possible edge-modified flake, something used as a cutting tool. The artifact on the right is a corner-notched projectile point, most likely a Late Prehistoric arrow point which means it dates from sometime in the last two thousand years. Both look like they are made of local sourced petrified wood, which is typical around here.’”

A Short History of the Castlewood Dam

Experience Story by Laurel K. Teal, Colorado Parks and Wildlife state park employee

“Many settlers, including the Lucas Family, were drawn by the promise of the newly constructed Castlewood Dam. Built in 1890, the dam was an attempt to transform the fickle, flood-prone Cherry Creek into a reliable irrigation source. The reservoir it created soon became a beloved recreation site as well. Named for the jovial neighbor who fed workers during dam construction, ‘Lake Louisa’ provided a thrifty weekend getaway for many in the Denver area. Hiking, swimming, sun bathing, and picnicking were all popular activities. Happy summers at the reservoir, however, were not to last. Notorious for its frequent leaks, the dam finally burst on the night of August 3rd, 1933.”

“Cherry Creek was chipping away at the earthen structure for years. The same erosion which formed the canyon ultimately weakened Castlewood Dam’s foundation. Bursting from the bottom of the dam, a wall of water soon sent building materials, timber, cattle, cars, and debris tumbling towards Denver. The city remained flooded for several days. Further tragedy was undoubtedly prevented by the actions of Nettie Driskill, a telephone operator in nearby Parker. Driskill stayed on phone lines throughout the night–with raging flood waters only a few yards away–to warn downstream residents and first responders of the impending disaster. Her efforts made her a national hero, and even landed her a spread in the famed Time Magazine.”

“The Castlewood Dam was never rebuilt. Denver and Aurora instead began to explore comprehensive flood-control along Cherry Creek, lobbying the federal government for both funds and engineers. In August 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the “Cherry Creek Project” as part of a $275 million New Deal program. The US Army Corps of Engineers completed this project in January 1950 and the resulting dam now stands at the heart of Cherry Creek State Park. In 1965, it stopped one of the worst floods in Colorado history and is generally considered a great success.”

Observing the Fateful Night

Volunteer experience by Chris Glaeser, Castlewood Canyon volunteer since 2018

“Every year on the first Saturday of August, park staff and volunteers join forces to celebrate our annual Dam Day. The purpose of Dam Day is to tell visitors the story of the dam, its beginning and end. It goes back to when it was built in 1890 and when it burst on August 3rd, 1933 after days of torrential rain. It caused a horrific flood downstream in the city of Denver. There are lots of characters from the time, Rufus “Potato” Clark, an investor in the dam and irrigation system; A.M Wells, its chief engineer; Aunt Louisa (Engel), who fed and nursed the men building the dam; Hugh Paine, the damn watchman who lived with his wife on the site; Nettie Dirskill, the telephone operator who helped warn area families to get their livestock to higher ground on that fateful night. Policemen and firemen were involved and had to shoot livestock trapped in the debris and struggling in the dark, raging water.

“Dam day is an all park experience. Park staff and volunteers come together to retell the story of that fateful night through guided hikes and talks at the park pavilions. Park staff are on hand to answer questions from park visitors. Volunteers will dress as characters from the story, or make up their own citizen of the era. Scattered along the trail to the dam or perched atop the dam ruins, they tell their stories to visitors. And at the end, visitors can enjoy a “Dam Good Lunch” at the event center, provided and served by our volunteers for donations only.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is celebrating its 125th Anniversary throughout 2022 to honor the legacy of our agency and the talented staff who make fulfilling CPW’s important mission possible. For more stories like this, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s 125th Anniversary web page!

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