Colorado Treasures: The history behind Castlewood Canyon State Park

FRANKTOWN, Colo. -- Whether you're a Colorado native or a transplant, it's clear the Centennial state shines when it comes to outdoor recreation.

Castlewood Canyon State Park is one of Colorado's treasures. The jewel of the prairie is about 30 miles southeast of Denver. You can see part of the canyon off Highway 83 just south of Franktown.

Many people who drive by never realize they just passed a gem. Although thousands and thousands of people hike there each year, many skip the visitors center and head straight for the trails. They miss out on all the history.

"Castlewood Canyon is an absolute phenomenal park," said Cathy Fischer. She loves it so much that she volunteers as a tour guide there.

The park sits on 2,600 acres with 17 miles of trails and there's much more to the state park than meets the eye.

In 1889, a dam was born. Eighty-nine men worked tirelessly for 11 months to build the wall that would retain a large body of water behind it.

"It became a great recreation area," said Fischer. "People would ride their buggies or drive their Model A's out to the dam and they would spend a week out here, camp along the sides, they would fish."

Disaster struck on August 3, 1933. The dam failed after days of thunderstorms and rain. It was 43-years-old when it let go. Fifteen feet of water rushed down the Cherry Creek. The water made it all the way to downtown Denver, flooding the streets.

The partial dam still sits on the west side of the park. If you're caught climbing on it, you could be fined up to $50 a person.

The ruins have a sense of beauty now. A place rich with history still thrives today.

Cherry Creek Reservoir was built in place of the Castlewood Canyon dam after it failed. 

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