Not that the ground in the surrounding Sun Valley neighborhood, where Guel lived, could be considered that much higher. One of Denver's poorest neighborhoods, Sun Valley consists primarily of housing projects and has always had problems with crime and a lack of amenities. But things are supposed to be looking up.

The Regional Transportation District is building a twelve-mile spur — the West Rail Line — that will eventually run past Decatur and Howard on its way from Golden to Union Station. Neighbors hope it will bring people and jobs and a higher quality of life.

Before it started building, though, RTD wanted improvements to Lakewood Gulch to ensure that its train tracks wouldn't be flooded in the event of heavy rain. But the project was on the city's to-do list long before that, says Jim Potter, an engineering supervisor with Denver Public Works. However, there was a big obstacle in the way. A city building known as the Decatur Street Facility, which was part office complex, part garage for street-sweeping vehicles and the like, had been built in the middle of Lakewood Gulch, which was re-routed around it via those concrete tunnels. To return the gulch to its natural path, the city first had to relocate and demolish that facility. RTD contributed $12 million toward its removal.

The tunnel in Lakewood Gulch where Elsha Guel tried to take shelter in 2007. Video: Take a fast-forward ride down the South Platte River trail
photo Courtesy of RTD, Denver
The tunnel in Lakewood Gulch where Elsha Guel tried to take shelter in 2007. Video: Take a fast-forward ride down the South Platte River trail
The tunnel in Lakewood Gulch in 2011, after improvements were made. Video: Take a fast-forward ride down the South Platte River trail
photo Courtesy of RTD, Denver
The tunnel in Lakewood Gulch in 2011, after improvements were made. Video: Take a fast-forward ride down the South Platte River trail

The rest of the project cost about $16.2 million and was paid for with city money and funds from the independent Urban Drainage and Flood Control District. It included widening Lakewood Gulch and deepening where it flows into the Platte River, among other improvements. Whereas the previous configuration was equipped to handle what's known as a ten-year flood event, the banks of the new Lakewood Gulch can handle a 100-year flood. The whole thing wrapped up two weeks ago, with just a few finishing touches on the agenda.

On a recent afternoon, the spot, just two blocks from Sports Authority Field, was serene. The water in the gulch was no more than ten feet wide and two feet deep, moving at a pace that would be perfect for an inner tube. Ducks and spandex-clad bikers provided the only activity on the path, rolling past a cascading water feature surrounded by rocks just big enough to serve as a picnic spot for two.

The Greenway Foundation hopes these changes are just the beginning. Organization head Jeff Shoemaker has envisioned $17.5 million worth of improvements to the area that include returning Weir Gulch, which is south of Lakewood Gulch, to a more natural waterway, building a path alongside it and erecting a playground nearby.

Construction on some of those projects is expected to begin this fall, but the neighborhood's future is still difficult to read. "I don't know what Sun Valley is going to be in ten years, but it's going to be something very different," Shoemaker says.

Different, and safer.

Melanie Asmar

Video: Take a fast-forward ride down the South Platte River trail

******

 River North

Arkins Court and 36th Street

One minute, the only sound is a red-winged blackbird trilling from a tree next to the South Platte River bike trail. In the next, the motors of two eighteen-wheeled Pepsi trucks followed by an RTD bus, all three of them flying at more than forty miles per mile down Arkins Court, drown out every other sound.

River North isn't like the rest of the city; there's no constant urban drone from people, cars, office-building action or even dogs. Instead, the sound levels in this changing neighborhood oscillate between the near silence of nature and the cacophony of heavy industry — one just as startling as the other. But this quirkiness is what drew some of the first urban pioneers back to what was once a hidden part of Denver.

"I love how much nature there is here. We've seen eagles, and there is a family of chipmunks that lives right over there," says Tracy Weil, who in 2003 turned an old garage just steps from the river into a stunning art studio, gallery and home — and helped to create a hot new art district, RiNo, along the way. But at the same time, "RTD uses Arkins, which fronts the river on the east side, as a shortcut from I-70 to its facility, and I get fifty buses going by here sometimes at five in the morning."

Still, he loves the area: "Where else in Denver can you own land along the river?"

This part of the river, however, is one of the most unkempt and least used of any stretch within Denver limits. After heading north along the edge of downtown, the Platte plunges beneath a busy railyard, reappearing between a contaminated old landfill and RTD's sprawling maintenance facility and hub. It is bordered on the west by the popular Taxi development and a concrete plant, and on the east by a massive Pepsi warehouse and a long series of vacant or nearly vacant buildings and lots. After that, the river winds beneath I-70 and then past the National Western Stock Show complex.

Because this part of the city has been devoted to heavy industrial purposes for more than a hundred years, it was always a popular place to dump unwanted refuse. It still is. A few blocks from Weilworks, someone has upended a couch onto the embankment. Down below, in a culvert along the bike path, a homeless couple listens to a portable radio while they wash their feet and rinse out their clothes in the water spilling from a drainage ditch.

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8 comments
KevinInCentennial
KevinInCentennial

Lots of people also have fun gold panning in the river. I would love to see that mentioned along with the running, fishing, boating,etc. sometimes at Grant Frontier Park on the weekends there are more than 10 gold prospectors and most days at least one or two.

sifted1
sifted1

I love the path...I do not like the degrading comment about the homeless. This whole city is becoming a yuppie tourist trap. I hope all those "plans' for the Globeville part of the path do not go through. It is a nice area but real. Homeless people share the area with the yups all done up in thier cute little spandex bike suits and helmets. Yet the park itself is quiet and peaceful. If the plans for the area go through it will become a tourist trap like Confluence Park all clogged with people and very little wildlife. Did the evil fat cats REALLY ban homeless camping in the whole city? It is obvious they were never homeless. I laugh and laugh at the yups who pay a million dollars to live a block away from the rescue mission. I guess the REAL reason they are here is to drive the poor away to the degrading suburbs so they can have a REEL urban experience. I felt the article was really just thinly disguised boosterism.

MARGYVER
MARGYVER

I grew up in Swansea near globeville and the Platte....it used to be so horrible back in the day. Im always glad to see all the improvements. If I ever hit the lottery......im gonna give back to my old neighborhood to make sure that future generations never see it as crappy as I did!!!

Skotl
Skotl

Trying to make some improvements upstream as well - South Suburban Parks and Recreation partnering with Littleton, Urban Drainage, Trout Unlimited to enhance the river through South Platte Park in Littleton. The plan should help concentrate extremely low flows to create better fish survival and more varied aquatic habitat. Phase 1 to be constructed hopefully this fall, still seeking funding for the full plan, but the entire plan can be viewed (large file) on Littleton's website here: http://www.littletongov.org/pa...

calhounp
calhounp

I'd like to publish some of these comments in our print edition, ideally with your full name/town. If that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

Miles
Miles

Great article! I've been documenting unsanctioned use of the Lakewood gulch area for several years for a street-art project WeDUPT (West Denver Urban Preserve and Trail) http://www.sociometry.com/wpsb... It's interesting to see the greenway renewals effect on the homeless (and day-drinker) population. There are already new unsanctioned paths being trampled to and from clandestine camping spots in area – taking advantage of the new light-rail tracks segmenting off one side of the creek into barely accessible enclaves. It has however shifted a lot of homeless people away. Not so much up by the Taxi building, on a recent bike ride up there I saw easily 40 to 50 homeless people and several quasi-permanent camp spots. The recent ban on urban camping initiative will undoubtedly bring more people into the corridor hiding out from sweeps on the 16th St. Mall and Civic Center Park areas.

Whatajoke
Whatajoke

The improvements are great, but allowing Suncor to get away with decades of environmental degradation is shameful.

guest
guest

I commute by bike from Thornton to Denver on the Platte River Trail, and this trail is an urban treasure. While biking it I have seen abundant wildlife including Bald Eagles, Beavers, Owls, Coyotes, Deer, Snakes, White Pelicans, and countless other bird species. Major kudos to the Shoemakers for their dedication to this great river and its inhibitants.

 
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