Posts Tagged ‘history’

Calling off kindergarten in the name of water supply

Relocating Dillon to build a reservoir looks better now than in 1961, says town local turned Denver Water employee.

By Kristi Delynko

It’s said that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten. But what if you had to skip kindergarten because your school was underwater?

Joel Zdechlik, 1961

Joel Zdechlik in 1961, the year he was supposed to start kindergarten in the Town of Dillon.

While it may sound like one of those unlikely “dog ate my homework” scenarios, Joel Zdechlik spent exactly three days in kindergarten before his school in the Town of Dillon was closed and torn down to make way for Denver Water’s Dillon Reservoir.

Building the reservoir was not a popular decision among the residents of Dillon, including his parents, Zdechlik recalled.

Fast forward 50-plus years. Relations between Denver Water and the Dillon community have turned around. And Zdechlik? He’s been a water distribution manager for the past 30 years … at Denver Water.

It all started during the Great Depression, when Denver Water (then called the Denver Water Board) began buying abandoned and foreclosed property at tax sales to prepare for the reservoir.

Soon, Denver Water owned as much as three-fourths of the town, and by the mid-1950s — before Zdechlik was born — began holding public meetings with the community to plan for the town’s relocation to a 142-acre site on a ridge about a mile north.

Joel Zdechlik, 1962

In 1962, Joel Zdechlik got to skip kindergarten and spend the winter skiing and playing outside when the town was vacated to make way for Dillon Reservoir.

In what would become the largest storage reservoir in Denver Water’s system, capable of holding nearly 84 billion gallons of water (or filling 80 Mile High Stadiums), the importance of the Dillon Reservoir was clear from the start. But there were advantages for the town as well, including economic opportunities from the recreation and tourism the reservoir was certain to generate.

On July 1, 1960, Denver Water and the Town of Dillon signed an agreement that the town’s properties would be vacated by Sept. 15, 1961.

That’s when Zdechlik got to live every kid’s dream: After less than a week of school, kindergarten was canceled for the remainder of the year. Zdechlik and seven other children in his class put their academic responsibilities on hold until first grade, while older students in the Town of Dillon completed their school year in Frisco.

At first, the kids thought the school closing was their fault. “We had a mud pie fight one of those first days, and we all thought they canceled school because of that,” Zdechlik recalled. “I spent the year playing in the sandbox, skiing, playing outside and just being a kid.”

The old Dillon School

The old Dillon School, before it was demolished in 1962.

But what was a happy time for Zdechlik was a period of great conflict. With about 500 residents, not everyone in Dillon was happy with the acquisitions, or the promised benefits. Some residents expected more money for their properties, and business owners had to deal with the logistics of relocating their operations.

Resentment toward Denver Water was still simmering in 1986, when Zdechlik accepted a position with the utility.

“My parents threatened to disown me, but it was a job with stability and long-term potential — how could I turn it down?” he said.

Zdechlik is now responsible for strategic decisions for the entire water distribution system. During his career he has watched perceptions of Denver Water shift from a steamrolling “land grabber” to a more collaborative partner.

Demolition of the old Dillon School

The old Dillon School was one of the last buildings demolished in the town.

In its new location along the shoreline of the reservoir, Dillon is a popular spot for boating, fishing, camping, hiking, biking and outdoor events. As predicted, recreation is a vital component to Dillon’s economy, with $3.46 million contributed annually from visitor spending in the region.

Today, recreation in the area is managed cooperatively by the interagency Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee (known as “DRReC), comprised of Denver Water, Town of Dillon, Town of Frisco, Summit County and the U.S. Forest Service.

A few people may still carry a grudge from the old days, but Zdechlik said the community’s opinion of Denver Water has certainly changed. “The reservoir is vital to Dillon’s economy and is an important part of recreation and tourism in the area. Although the building of Dillon Reservoir was contentious at the time, I’m very proud to say I work for Denver Water.

“In the end,” he added, “I have Denver Water to thank for a lot — and not just for giving me a year off school.”

Real people, life lessons

Celebrating Black History Month with people who make working in water an honor.

By Dana Strongin

As part of Denver Water’s observation of Black History Month, we’re sharing stories about people who have made a difference in the world of water.

From working in water distribution at Denver Water to running the Environmental Protection Agency, each individual has a rich history and has played an important role.

The Denver Water employees featured here were recently honored as “Denver Water legends” in a Black History Month observance.

Every legend has a lesson to share. Here are theirs.

Note: This slideshow may not work depending on the type and configuration of your Web browser. If that’s the case, click here to view it.

Students protect train-wreck hero monument

A group of middle school students are preserving the monument, located on Denver Water property, which was erected to honor train engineer Billy Westall more than a century ago.

A group of middle school students are preserving the monument, located on Denver Water property, which was erected to honor train engineer Billy Westall more than a century ago.

By Ann Baker, Denver Water Communications and Marketing

More than a century after a train engineer saved all 450 passengers before dying in the crash he saw coming, a group of students are preserving the 113-year-old monument erected in his honor.

The granite marker, tucked away on Denver Water property near the confluence of the North Fork of the South Platte River, stands near the old Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad routes. A group of West Jefferson Middle School honor students saw the deteriorating monument – slumping toward the river and starting to separate – as a real-world lesson in history, engineering and fundraising.

On Aug. 28, 1898, train engineer Billy Westall lead a group of passengers on a trip from Denver’s Union Station along the South Platte River into the mountains, returning to Denver by dinner. The route was a common daytrip for city dwellers at the time, eager to spend a day out of town and enjoy a picnic in the mountains.

That afternoon, the train made its scheduled stop in the small town of Pine, continuing onto the Dome Rock Station. Westall noticed that a pile of rocks, trees and debris had washed across the tracks, and, sensing the train would crash, slowed the cars enough so the crew and passengers could jump off.

Although everyone on board scrambled to safety, Westall couldn’t escape in time. The train rolled, pinning him underneath.

Train engineer Billy Westall died in this train wreck after he slowed the train so all 450 passengers and crew members could escape the pending crash. Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

Train engineer Billy Westall died in this train wreck after he slowed the train so all 450 passengers and crew members could escape the pending crash. Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

Several people freed him, but his injuries were too severe. He died later that night, whispering, “tell my wife I died thinking of her,” as he took his last breath.

“The story is so interesting,” said Neil Sperandeo, retired Denver Water recreation manager who coached the students through the restoration process. “And not many people have heard of it.”

A year after the train wreck, the Ancient Order of United Workmen erected a 10-foot granite monument near the site of the crash. Westall’s name and last words are engraved in the stone, which has survived more than a century of forest fires and floods, the end of the railroad line, and the harsh mountain weather. But the soft riverbed has shifted beneath it, causing the structure to lose ground support and tilt toward the river.

“It’s definitely going to fall apart sometime,” said Jessica Barbier, a Denver Water engineer who met with the students to talk about what engineering and construction help would be needed to restore the monument.

The students raised money for the project and researched its history to replace a plaque that once was bolted to the stone. On Dec. 9, 2013, the monument was moved to its new location where it will be more visible from the nearby dirt road. Once it’s completely restored, the students plan to promote the monument so people stop and learn more about the last heroic act a train engineer made so long ago.

Brandon Ransom, Denver Water's new recreation manager oversaw the operation to move the monument on Dec. 9, 2013.

Brandon Ransom, Denver Water recreation manager, oversaw the operation to move the monument.

The monument was moved in seven separate pieces.

The monument was moved in seven pieces.

A large crain was used to move sections of the monument.

A large crane was used to move sections of the monument.

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