Camp Creek in Pleasant Valley: Is its future cast in concrete?

       “Camp Creek” has a nice, pastoral sound to it, especially rippling south out of the Garden of the Gods as it does.
       But when it flows into Pleasant Valley at Chambers Drive, the intermittent stream is contained - before spilling into an underground culvert at Bijou Street - within a fully lined concrete ditch between the lanes of traffic on 31st Street.
       At least, it used to be fully lined concrete. Over the past 40-odd years, Mother Nature has been fighting back at this engineering affront to her organic anarchy - a reality that can readily be seen driving or walking along 31st. Concrete slabs are cracking and pushing out, and grass is sprouting from the cracks. The concrete bottom south of Fontanero Street is covered with washed- down dirt and the vegetation that's grown in it. On warm days, ducks can be seen placidly swimming in the creek's rivulets.
       The City of Colorado Springs, which maintains the drainage, tried to pass a $9.3 million project to revamp the ditch in the 2001 city election, but voters didn't go for it. In fact neither did the neighborhood. City Engineering's preliminary concept - to widen the ditch, move the street 16 to 18 feet closer to the homes on either side and get rid of on-street parking - “wasn't anything anyone was interested in,” according to past Pleasant Valley Neighbor-hood Association (PVNA) President Jim Corcoran.
       Earlier this year, City Engineering included a 31st Street drainage upgrade in its city stormwater funding plan. This time the estimate was $10.6 million. No plan strategy has been determined, according to Stormwater Engineer Ken Sampley, noting that a comprehensive public process involving the neighborhood would occur first. But such niceties are moot points for now, he pointed out, because funding sources for the work still have not been identified.
       As a result, the city this year began what Sampley described as “temporary fixes and spot repairs so we don't lose the infrastructure we have.”
       The first phase was this summer, when a contractor for the city excavated debris, patched side panels (mostly north of Fontanero Street), repaired some culvert undercutting and fixed or replaced a number of drainage-flow structures. The cost for this work, which included considerable concrete grouting and rockwork, came to just under $65,000, according to City Engineering figures.
       Additional work could begin as early as January on the next phase, which Sampley estimated at about $125,000. Bids from contractors are due at 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30.
       This work may be more visible than the first phase, because, according to the bid specifications, it will include replacement/repair of some of the currently obscured concrete bottoms about 57 feet north of Fontanero and - depending on whether the bids come in low enough to afford it - 43 feet south. Also involved will be additional side slope work and culvert repairs under Fontanero.
       According to Sampley, city records show that the concrete side walls went up in the late '50s and early '60s.
       Rolland Gilliom, a former Pleasant Valley resident, recalls the walls being in place when he moved into the then-partially completed subdivision in August 1965.
       A few years later (exact year not verifiable), the city installed the concrete bottoms below Fontanero and installed a culvert under 31st (starting near Bijou Street) to take the flow to Fountain Creek. The creek had formerly curved southeast from Bijou to Fountain Creek (piped under Pikes Peak and Colorado avenues), and passed roughly where Wendy's is now, Gilliom said.
       Corcoran's wife, Carol, who also moved to the neighborhood in 1965, enjoyed the way the creek looked back then with a natural bottom all the way down. “It had different types of vegetation, and I remember people picking the watercress,” she said. “My kids would go sail their boats down there.”
       Going back another decade or so, the area that would become Pleasant Valley was an agricultural area - growing many of the vegetables sold in Westside grocery stores - while Camp Creek was a smaller, curvier stream, according to local historian Mel McFarland.
       When houses started being built there in the later 1950s, the developer decided to control the creek with a concrete channel. Other-wise, he would have had a “big problem,” McFarland said, because of the increased water flow from the paved streets.
       So, what should 31st Street's future drainage look like, assuming the city can ever fund a major upgrade? Bruce Thorson, city roadway engineering manager, said that nowadays in an urban drainage like Camp Creek, “typically we wouldn't do concrete. We would do buried riprap with natural soil.” He said that because the channel would be less smooth, the water would move slower and thus needs more space to spread out, and, as a result, the creek footprint would have to be wider.
       But that would mean narrowing the roadway - the conceptual idea that Pleasant Valley residents disliked in 2001. At the same time, they have yet to get behind a unifying idea of their own - as indicated by the differing responses to a question about the issue that current PVNA President Dick Wulf recently posted on his Pleasant Valley E-Mail Connection.
       “We don't really have a plan,” Carol Corcoran observed. “Maybe we need to come up with one.”

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