Photos: Lakewood Gulch ribbon-cutting celebrates Sun Valley, Baby Matthew

In our recent epic tome about the rehabilitation of the South Platte River, we told you about improvements to Lakewood Gulch. The trickling tributary in Sun Valley was for years walled in by concrete in an attempt to corral its flow -- a dangerous situation that proved deadly in 2007 when a two-year-old was washed away in a flash flood. On Monday, city dignitaries cut a ceremonial red ribbon on Lakewood Gulch's stunning multi-million-dollar transformation. Councilwoman Judy Montero called the area a "beautiful sanctuary." The concrete is gone, replaced by sloping hills, natural vegetation and a brand new path for biking or walking. "We hope that when you're on your bike, you'll remember to stop in Sun Valley," Montero said. Sun Valley is one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.Both Montero and Mayor Michael Hancock asked those gathered to take a moment to remember two-year-old Jose Matthew Jauregui Jr. His mother was pushing him in a stroller along Lakewood Gulch in May 2007 when a sudden storm dumped so much rain and hail that the river rose nearly three feet in less than an hour. She ducked into a narrow concrete tunnel to escape the deluge, but the water came after her. The force of it knocked her off her feet and pried the handles of Baby Matthew's stroller out of her hands.

The city planted a tree and erected a plaque and bench in memory of Baby Matthew, as he was known. Montero said the memorial is there so Baby Matthew "can represent the playfulness and the light and the spirit of all the children who live in Sun Valley."

The improvements were a partnership between Denver Public Works, Parks and Recreation, the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District and RTD, whose new West Rail Line runs along Lakewood Gulch; its construction hastened the project. Lakewood Gulch is now deeper and wider, which will allow it to withstand a 100-year flood.

The changes also make it less likely that Lakewood Gulch will be used for unsanctioned activities, such as camping and day drinking -- a shift not everyone is thrilled about, as is evident by this prank pulled by a local street artist. But the city couldn't be happier! Flip the page to see more photos of improvements to Lakewood Gulch.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "ACLU says Boulder can't require permission for protestors to use parks."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar