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WALDO CANYON FIRE: Burn area tour opens residents' eyes to regrowth
To learn more about forest restoration efforts and the need for volunteers, visit waldofire.org.
While some Mountain Shadows residents are rebuilding their neighborhood after the Waldo Canyon fire, scientists and environmental experts are waging a battle in the western foothills to revive a severely damaged forest.
Mountain Shadows might start to look normal again in a few years. But its forest backdrop to the area will not, Jerri Marr, the U.S. Forest Service’s deputy forester in the Pikes Peak region, told a group touring the burn area Saturday. A lot of work has been done to restore or recreate the forest’s ecosystem, she said.
“Does that mean that next year this hill will look the way it did last year?” Marr asked the crowd. “The answer?” she prompted them.
“No,” was the resounding reply.
Residents can see denuded hills behind Mountain Shadows. But what they can’t see are the shoots of yarrow, the Gambel oak still healthy and buried in the ground, and the logs placed to control sediment deposits.
The guided tour into a portion of the burn area, organized by the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, a nonprofit environmental group, led 100 people through the remains of the Flying W Ranch to see all those things Saturday.
Former neighbors Barb Mickless and Cheryl Dingwell-Keckritz, whose homes on Majestic Drive were destroyed in the fire, paid the $30 price to get a look at recovery above the streets.
The group was shepherded through five outdoor talks with environmental experts, on everything from soil damage to the possible rebuilding of Flying W Ranch. The transformed ranch grounds — black trees, a burnt cross, and barren dirt plots — reminded Dingwell-Keckritz of her initial return to her neighborhood, after the fire swept through June 26.
“Barb, it’s like that first time we went back to Parkside,” she told her friend. “I didn’t even recognize where I was. Now, it’s old hat.”
Like the forest and Mountain Shadows, the ranch is staggering to its feet again. Aaron Winter, executive director for the Flying W Foundation, spoke to the group about the foundation’s tentative plans to recreate what was lost. After cleanup, the ranch is left with a $2 million insurance settlement for rebuilding — but it’s not enough. .
Still, there were flickers of hope everywhere. One of the cattle that survived the ranch fire just gave birth to a bull, christened Waldo. While members of the tour trudged up a ravine, a doe kept pace with them.
Scientists hope money for rejuvenating the land sprouts along with the plants.
Federal grants have fallen short by several million dollars. The odds of Colorado receiving more federal money in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are not good, said Leon Kot, a hydrologist.
Volunteers and employees of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, the Rocky Mountain Field Institute and the Mile High Youth Corps are spearheading the regrowth.
“But don’t try these structures at home,” said hillslope stabilization specialist Joe Lavorini, as he pointed to a burned log nestled into the hillside that acts as a catchment basin.
Dingwell-Keckritz chuckled at that, and turned to Mickless.
“What home?” she said.