Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Safety concerns keep forests off-limits after Waldo Canyon fire

MATT STEINER Updated: April 14, 2013 at 12:00 am

The forests along more than 10 miles of Rampart Range Road and the Waldo Canyon hiking trail will remain closed because of safety concerns, a U.S. Forest Service official said last week.

Frank Landis, the manager of recreation and travel for the Pikes Peak Ranger District, said conditions in the Waldo Canyon fire burn area are unpredictable. The fire burned more than 18,000 acres in late June, destroying 347 homes in Colorado Springs and killing two people.

Landis said the burn scar is filled with dead trees that could fall if a strong wind comes along, rocks that are ready to give way because of weakened, burned-out soil and an ever-present threat of floods and landslides.

“It’s just a total unknown,” Landis said.

Landis added that the decision to keep Rampart Range Road from Colorado Springs to Rampart Reservoir in Teller County closed might be different if curious people would avoid the temptation of venturing into the burned forest, which could have many hidden faults and potholes caused by vegetation burning under the surface.

“There’s no guarantee that they will just stay on the road,” Landis said.

Pikes Peak District ranger Al Hahn said the forest service has two priorities over the next several months when deciding whether to open fire-damaged forests. The most important of those is public safety and the second is recovery of the landscape.

“If it endures well and we get good recovery in places, that will lead to us looking at opening up more areas,” Hahn said.

Both officials fear that flood mitigation work and the recovery initiative could cause more danger for people. There will be workers with heavy machinery along Rampart Range Road that could conflict with public travelers.

The two-lane dirt road will be reopened from Woodland Park to the reservoir, allowing trails around the reservoir and the Stanley Canyon trail out of the Air Force Academy to be accessed, Landis said.

The forest service expects that section of Rampart Range Road to open the Friday before Memorial Day, but unpredictable weather patterns could push that back as well.

For Waldo Canyon, many of the concerns are the same. But Landis said the threat of flood is even higher in that section along U.S. 24 through Ute Pass.

“We did do a lot of work in there, but we’re just scared to death if we get 3 inches of rain,” he said.

Landis said people who disobey and venture into the closed sections of forest could face fines up to $5,000 or up to six months in jail.

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