Mudslide buries plans to rebuild mountain retreat center

DCR_11-05-14.inddNearly three years after a fire destroyed the lodge and guest wing at the Camp St. Malo Conference and Retreat Center in Allenspark, and one year after a devastating mudslide rearranged the landscape of the 160-acre property, management and the board of directors of St. Malo, with the assistance of the Archdiocese of Denver, is putting any possible plans to rebuild the property on indefinite hold.

“In light of the significant remediation costs to the property, the ongoing uncertainty regarding the stability of Mount Meeker, and the unknown impact of future water and sediment flows on the property, it has been determined that it is not prudent to rebuild on the St. Malo property,” according to David Holden, chief financial officer of the archdiocese and president of St. Malo’s corporate entity.

Holden told the Denver Catholic Register that the management team “continues to address various property issues and is evaluating options for best utilizing the property going forward.”

To assess the damage caused from a mudslide down neighboring Mount Meeker that was triggered by the Front Range floods in September 2013, the archdiocese hired AMEC Environment and Infrastructure Inc., an internationally-known water resources and disaster mitigation and recovery consulting firm. AMEC has also provided disaster recovery services to the Town of Jamestown, severely damaged by the floods, and delivered hazard mitigation services to more than 70 local governments.

“In comparison to other communities affected by the disaster, St. Malo took one of the most significant hits of any form from the massive debris flow,” according to Jeff Brislawn with AMEC. “Significant and cost-prohibitive work remains in addition to lingering concerns about continued erosion, deposition and the potential for more debris flows on the Cabin Creek drainage. … Smaller rainfall events might even mobilize additional debris.”

Because of continued settlement and sinkholes, he continued, it could take 10 years or more for natural processes to reestablish equilibrium.

AMEC, who’s spent nearly a year on the project, recommended “an exclusion zone” to prevent structures from being built on what they described as “the likely path of a future slide event.”

Despite the risks, they determined there are areas that could be safely redeveloped. Because the Chapel of St. Catherine of Siena, also known as Chapel on the Rock, was not significantly impacted, it can continue to be used. It was spared due to its location high on a rock outcrop.

Months before the Front Range floods in 2013, the Malo management team was actively working on a plan to rebuild the retreat center. The proposed location for a new structure, according to Holden, was in the path of the mudslide that involved a debris flow of rocks, soil and trees, estimated at depths of 15 feet in some locations. The mudslide emptied into a pond and wetland adjacent to Highway 7, before stopping short of the historic stone chapel. On its way, the raging debris damaged structures, parking lots, roads and the environment including the Cabin Creek Trail hiked by St. John Paul II when visiting St. Malo during Denver’s World Youth Day 1993.

The estimated clean-up, remediation and restoration costs, developed by AMEC, stand at $4.4 million to return the property to its prior condition, according to an Oct. 28 statement from the St. Malo board of directors, with only a minimal amount being covered by insurance. That figure is separate from an estimated $500,000 investment by the Colorado Department of Transportation last winter to restore portions of Cabin Creek and sections of the property so the integrity of Highway 7 would not be compromised. It also does not include any allowance for rebuilding structures on the property.

St. Malo does not qualify for recovery assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance program because of its status as a private nonprofit religious organization. Financing from the Small Business Administration was not feasible, and work with other federal regulatory agencies has not yielded funding thus far. Staff of the archdiocese continues to pursue other opportunities to help address the damage done by this natural disaster.

Originally established as a camp for boys in the 1930s, the venue was reopened as a retreat and conference center in 1987 following a three-year closure (see accompanying timeline for additional detail). After a fire destroyed the center Nov. 14, 2011, a conceptual master plan for redevelopment, including dormitories for a youth camp, was finalized in spring 2013. The organization was moving forward with plans, including discussions with Boulder County, when the mudslide began in September, after several days of torrential rain.

“We hope to provide more definitive plans on these initiatives in the near future,” said Father Randy Dollins, board member of St. Malo, adding that the group’s priorities include continuing to look at alternative sites for a Catholic retreat center and youth camp, while preserving the heritage of Camp St. Malo, the conference center and the papal visit sites.

Father Dollins, who also serves as the moderator of the curia for the archdiocese, requested support from the faithful as the group moves forward.

“We ask you to keep this matter in your prayers,” he said. “The wisdom of our future decisions will be enhanced through our common prayer during this time.”

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.

Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.