Updated: January 9, 2014 at 8:35 am
When El Paso County and Coalition for the Upper South Platte officials began exploring an area west of Manitou Springs for possible flood mitigation, they had no idea what they'd find.
Theresa Springer of CUSP was one of those who began surveying more than an acre along Fountain Creek just above Rainbow Falls in December 2012. Springer said she initially didn't give much credence to the area as a potential flood debris retention project, but El Paso County's John Chavez had different ideas.
Springer said she's been "eating crow" ever since as county and Manitou Springs officials quickly learned that sediment in the area covered mitigation work that had been done in the 1930s.
"The guys in the '30s really had a good connection with the environment," Springer said Wednesday morning as she stood next to a stone wall and concrete structure that were put in place by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
"They really did a good job," she said as she pointed to a Corps plaque on one of the walls.
CUSP spent three weeks in December hauling about 260 dump truck loads of debris out of the area near work that was completed as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal initiative.
Chavez said floods in July, August and September poured out of the Waldo Canyon fire burn scar and deposited at least 4 feet of debris near the old structures just south of U.S. 24. He guesses that debris was on top of even more sediment that had built up since the initial work began in 1933.
"We still may have another 4 feet or so to take it back to the original grade," Chavez said.
Springer said Colorado's Office of the State Archaeologist confirmed that the Great Depression-era work was started by the Corps after floods that hit the Pikes Peak region in the 1920s.
The Works Progress Administration, another New Deal agency that also did construction work along roadways, finished the project after a deadly flood hit Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs in May 1935.
The Corps used unemployed young men to battle destruction and erosion of natural resources, according to ccclegacy.org, a website focused on history of the Corps.
In the mid-1930s, there were Corps camps in Divide, Woodland Park, Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.
CUSP volunteers uncovered two of the concrete channel control structures built by Corps workers. Springer and Chavez said there could be four more hidden beneath debris along 1,500 feet of Fountain Creek.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service will survey damage along the channel on Jan. 15. Springer and others in her organization hope the results of the survey will help them secure more Emergency Watershed Protection money to complete additional mitigation work.
Springer said the existing Corps structures helped CUSP stay under budget for the initial project. CUSP and county officials estimated the job would cost $169,000, but the final cost was just less than $130,000. Chavez said costs for the second phase have not been determined.
Emergency Watershed Protection money can be used only to remove debris left behind by the 2013 floods.
Springer said CUSP and El Paso County officials would love to restore the area to the way it looked after the Corps work was completed in the 1930s, but that may not be feasible and state officials fear that hidden historic structures could be damaged with more digging.
"We'll have to prove that doing the work will save Manitou Springs," Springer said.