Waldo Canyon- Five Years Later : Colorado Springs Gazette

A sign for the Waldo Canyon trail stands before a sign warning people of trespassing. The trail has been closed since the 2012 wildfire, and the U.S. Forest Service has no plans to allow access in the canyon. (The Gazette file photo)

The Colorado Springs Gazette just completed a great series on five years after the Waldo Canyon Fire- lots of photos and videos.. Here is a link to a piece of the story from which you can click around to find other pieces. Maybe I am old-fashioned but I found it much easier to read and interpret in the more linear (and fewer clicks per bite of information) print edition. The excerpt below talks about the impacts on a recreation trail, which is something you don’t hear much about. I’m sure there are other discussion-worthy parts to the article as well.

A CHANGING FOREST
Five years after the devastation, land managers maintain a hopeful narrative. The Forest Service calls the burn scar 70 percent revegetated – a figure that does not allude to the return of the previous conifer-covered state, but to a transformed one.

The area is taking on a look it likely had centuries ago, says Pikes Peak District Ranger Oscar Martinez. Mother Nature has “reset the clock,” he says, by pulling up the aspens that long lay dormant beneath the now-destroyed pines and firs that dominated for generations in forest time. Also covering the slopes now are tangles of scrub oak; they, like aspens, were eager to make their presence known soon after the conifers departed.

There has always been fire, Martinez explains. “There’s always been an ebb and flow,” he says.

But locals have endeavored to bring back the dense green scene they recall, most fondly from their days of hiking the Waldo Canyon trail, super popular before its closure in the fire’s wake. From 2013 to 2016 the Colorado Springs Office of Emergency Management tallied 94,730 volunteer hours from individuals who, among other recovery tasks, spread conifer seedlings. The Forest Service reports overseeing the planting of 60,000 conifers across the scar.

And all those attempts could very well prove futile. What’s certain is the trees grow slow, too slow for those volunteer adults to see them stand tall in their lifetimes.

“There are questions as to whether or not they will ever come back,” says Melanie Vanderhoof, the scientist with the U.S. Geological Service who has been tracking the scar’s revegetation from annual satellite imagery.

A fire of Waldo Canyon’s magnitude heats the ground to a point of hydrophobicity, where instead of water being absorbed, it is repelled. Further complicating the conifers’ return is the forest’s unique soil – “calling it a soil is kind of a generous term,” Martinez says. Conservationists call Pikes Peak granite “kitty litter,” for its pebbly, porous condition, which rain had no problem moving in the days after the burn, washing the sediment into the canyon and piling it up to heights of grown men.

That phenomenon made portions of the Waldo trail disappear along its 7-mile loop. The Forest Service continues to take questions as to when the trail will reopen, and land managers say people should refine their questions, considering the trail no longer really exists. Realignment seems more than likely.

“The question is where will it be, if there will ever be a trail in there,” Martinez says.

Serious conversations about reintroducing recreation have yet to be had. The management plan for the Pike National Forest is due sometime between 2018 and 2020, and that, Martinez says, would identify areas where a trail is feasible.

Susan Davies with the Trails and Open Space Coalition understands the Forest Service’s concerns – the dangers of flash floods and dead trees that could fall on heads at any moment. “It is the five-year anniversary” of the fire, she says, “and I think it would be great if the Forest Service were willing to put together a timeline, or even state a goal of when we might be able to start a public process. Could we at least start a conversation?”

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