News & Events

Remembering the South Platte Flood of 1965

Remembering the South Platte Flood of 1965

Jun 10 2015

Fifty years ago, a massive flash flood swept through Littleton and Denver, causing massive devastation in the metro area. Not only did this historic event change lives, it drastically changed how the City of Littleton developed, leading to the creation of both Chatfield Reservoir and South Platte Park - the nation's first floodplain park.

The flood will be commemorated on its 50th anniversary, Tuesday, June 16.

The Flood

The spring of 1965 had been wet and cold. Reservoirs were full, and the ground was saturated.

On June 16, a weather system stalled over the Palmer Divide. Intense rain fell for hours, measuring 12 - 14 inches in some areas of Douglas County. The diminutive Plum Creek became a raging torrent, in places up to a mile wide. The river was estimated at 110,000 cubic feet per second. It ripped through Castle Rock, Sedalia, and Louviers. The City of Littleton only had a few hours warning before the wall of water hit late that evening, but it successfully evacuated the entire river valley.

The water swept through the valley destroying homes, businesses, forests and bridges. In a day's time, the flood causes $325 million in damage, washed out or closed 13 of 24 bridges across the Platte, and swept away dozens of homes.

The aftermath

When the flood ripped through Littleton, it left debris and scars, but also possibilities. Residents saw light borne from a dark disaster. They stayed. They rebuilt. And they had a groundbreaking vision for their community.

Chatfield Reservoir was created and Littleton embarked on a national precedent-setting effort to change the Army Corps of Engineers plan for a flood channel. Instead, the city leaders lobbied Congress and raised tax funds to be able to purchase the floodplain of the South Platte River to keep the natural environment as well as to provide for safety for future residents. 

Over time, that plan was approved and evolved into today’s popular 880-acre open space known as South Platte Park and the Carson Nature Center, an area filled with trails, wildlife, and fishing opportunities in the heart of Littleton. The flood control efforts and planning for the Park affected which roads connected to neighborhoods on the west side of the river, where and how housing developments were approved, architectural decisions for the Santa Fe corridor, trail development and connections, and other decisions that impacted the character of the City of Littleton.

50 years later

To commemorate the devastation from the flood and the positive community changes that evolved, South Suburban Parks and Recreation is partnering with Aspen Grove Lifestyle Center and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for a family outdoor movie night on June 16.

The event is free and open to all ages. 

Starting at 6:30 pm, South Platte Park will be giving guided hikes to the river in the park, as well as other festivities, including a large river model trailer, Hawk Quest with live birds of prey, a bounce house, face-painting, and more. 

Participants can preregister for the first two free hikesStarting at 7 pm, the free hikes will be first-come, first-served. 

At dusk, there will be a brief presentation on the story of the 1965 Flood, followed by a screening of the film Singing in the Rain.

Other events in the area to commemorate the Flood include exhibitions at the Littleton Historical Museum and Sheridan Library, a presentation by the Douglas County Historical Society on June 11, campfire story-telling at the Chatfield State Park campground on June 19 and at Bear Creek Lake Park Amphitheater on June 20, and an event at the future River Run Park near Broken Tee Golf Course in conjunction with Bike-To-Work Day on June 24.

For questions about the event, or the history of the 1965 Flood in Littleton, please call 303.730.1022