News: Guard engineers help preserve town, southern Colo. mining history
Story by Master Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral
COKEDALE, Colo. - Between suppressing flames and assisting law enforcement in the wake of deadly wildfires, Colorado National Guardsmen have had one of the busiest summers on record.
Lesser known, however, is the National Guard's ability to prevent disaster.
To that end, the 947th Engineer Company (Horizontal), of the Colorado Army National Guard has been hard at work helping improve the quality of life in the tiny town of Cokedale, Colo., since Aug. 4.
The 35 soldiers of the company's 2nd Platoon are installing culverts, cleaning ditches and repairing degraded dirt roads. These repairs, in turn, will update and improve the town's infrastructure by directing storm water runoff away from building foundations.
Yet refurbishing streets and drainage systems means more to the people here than just improving their standard of living.
Cokedale is also a National Historic District - the only intact coal mining town in Colorado and one of a few remaining in the country - so the soldiers' work is also helping preserve history, said Kathy Kumm, Cokedale town clerk.
According to Kumm, Cokedale was once considered a model, company-owned mining camp, because each home had indoor running water one light bulb in every room, which was quite rare in 1907.
Mining ceased 40 years later, but the structures remained. The mining company eventually sold all the houses for $50 a room and $100 a lot, and Cokedale became an incorporated township in 1947.
"Today, many of the original structures are still standing, providing a good example of how folks used to live and of the coal mining heritage, which is paramount in southern Colorado," said Kumm. "We're very excited the soldiers are here. We're going to have far more of this project done that we could have ever have done without them."
Cokedale resident Jeanne Lane notes the town is roughly 160 acres - two square miles - and with a population of approximately 120 - including many living on a fixed income - the town can't afford to make the necessary infrastructure repairs.
"It's important to get the ditches leaned out or the water would be in my basement," she said.
This civil-military project is part of the National Guard’s Innovative Readiness Training program. Civil-military IRT projects enhance unit training and readiness, while filling a community need that is not otherwise being met. The unit must maintain its readiness by performing realistic training, and IRT projects provide a meaningful outlet for that training and help connect National Guard units with the communities they serve.
"For a horizontal engineering company, we couldn't have asked for a better project," said 2nd Lt. Tim Barkley, 2nd Platoon leader, who noted that the unit is using all its equipment and is also tracking the soldiers' mileage and hours."It means a lot to me that our soldiers are getting great training and giving back to the community at the same time."
On behalf of his unit, Barkley also expressed his gratitude to the townspeople, who he describes as open, welcoming and generous - to the extent that they’ve provided homemade meals and pastries, and left coolers full of cold drinks outside for the engineers.
"It's a mutual admiration society between the townspeople and the soldiers," said Mayor Sandy McGonigal. "It's nice that we can allow them to do this real world and we're thrilled we're able to get this project done."
Past Colorado Army National Guard IRT projects include tamarisk removal in Grand Junction, Colo., building a retention pond in Deer Trail, Colo., work on a dam and reservoir No. 1 in Fruita, Colo., and a boulder removal and hauling mission north of Durango, Colo.
Engineers also worked to finish the Archuleta County Fairground in Pagosa Springs, Colo., earlier in 2012.
Starting Aug. 17, the 1st and 3rd Platoons of the 947th Engineers are scheduled to begin work on a storm water retention dam that will span Leach Creek in Grand Junction, Colo.