Save this content for laterSave this content on your device for later, even while offline Sign in with FacebookSign in with your Facebook account Close

Colorado Springs' much reduced city forestry division feels strain of epic windstorm

January 10, 2017 Updated: January 11, 2017 at 11:29 am
0
Caption +
City crews remove a fallen ash tree Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, from the top of a Subaru Outback parked along E. Kiowa Street in Colorado Springs. Monday's powerful wind storm blew over trees throughout the city, damaging cars, homes and knocking out power. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

From her downtown home Tuesday morning, Tammy Archuleta saw help in a city official.

"Please, I'd like you to see this," she said to Kurt Schroeder, the Colorado Springs park operations manager among workers who removed wreckage in this neighborhood recovering from the previous day's record windstorm. "I want you to see how fragile this tree is."

With Schroeder at her side, Archuleta traced her finger along the trunk of an ash tree, following the cracks. She peeled off bark like it was cellophane. The tree tilted toward her house, and she worried that something disastrous would happen here like it did across the street: A similar tree, standing a similar 50 feet or so, had toppled and crushed a Subaru parked curb-side. Nervous neighbors here on the 800 block of Kiowa Street recalled the sound as being like potato chips crunching.

Schroeder assured Archuleta he understood her concern. "We'll see if we can get someone to check it out," he told her.

But providing individual assistance in the coming weeks will be tough for the parks department, which has been stretched thin as staffers have teamed up with the even thinner city forestry division to clear the aftermath of hurricane-force winds.

City crews remove a fallen ash tree Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, from the top of a Subaru Outback parked along E. Kiowa Street in Colorado Springs. Monday's powerful wind storm blew over trees throughout the city, damaging cars, homes and knocking out power. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
City crews remove a fallen ash tree Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, from the top of a Subaru Outback parked along E. Kiowa Street in Colorado Springs. Monday's powerful wind storm blew over trees throughout the city, damaging cars, homes and knocking out power. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Beside the mangled car on Kiowa Street, 20-year city forestry staffer Patrick Ford, leading a seven-man crew of workers who were supposed to be managing park grounds, remembered the pre-recession days when the division was triple its current size.

In 2008, forestry pulled from a parks budget of $19.9 million. Today, the city's General Fund allots the department $12.1 million.

Ford is one of two maintenance technicians in the division, which has a staff of 10.

"We used to have 14 techs," recalled Ford, who on the morning had a list of 20 jobs that he figured would double by lunchtime. He knew it was unlikely he would get to the first 20.

"Every time the wind blows," he said, "I know I'm gonna get called."

And as gusts roared Monday, officials thought of the 300-plus dead or dying trees that for three years have been on a list, at risk of falling and awaiting removal. Ford and the one other tech worker assigned to the largest land mass in any Colorado city have struggled to keep up with the mounting requests.

On Monday, Mother Nature did some of the job for them. And she did not do it so kindly.

"We knew there were trees out there that were compromised," Schroeder said. "Have a big wind like that, we knew what could happen."

Jay Hein, the city's forester, estimated that well over 100 trees had fallen in public spaces - not counting any in parks, where workers have yet to assess damage as they remain focused on clearing roads and removing debris atop houses and cars. And Hein warned of the potential for more falling trees; Those decaying ones that withstood the wind have likely become more compromised.

The most vulnerable areas - neighborhoods where residents have added the most reports to the three-year waiting list - are the city's downtown and west end. Silver maple is the most common species on the list.

Anyone waiting on a neglected tree to be removed will probably have to wait longer, Hein said.

"We feel bad we have to put people on a long wait anyhow. We feel like it's a disservice," he said. "Now we hate to be pushing them back further. But when there's an emergency like this, we have to tackle the most pressing issues."

On Tuesday morning, the issue was on Kiowa Street. Ford controlled the forestry division's only machine with a claw, clamping it on the collapsed trunk and lifting it from the mashed Subaru to reveal a child's car seat in the back. After a half-hour of cleanup, a worker drove the division's one bucket truck to a dump-off site, which was running out of space. Hein was looking for an alternative place for trunks and twigs to be dumped.

Before going back inside, Archuleta glanced up again at the leaning tree by her house.

"We've tried to play board games to occupy our minds," she said.

Comment Policy
Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Incognito Mode Your browser is in Incognito mode

You vanished!

We welcome you to read all of our stories by signing into your account. If you don't have a subscription, please subscribe today for daily award winning journalism.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

Some news is free.
Exceptional journalism takes time, effort and your support.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

articles remaining
×
Thank you for your interest in local journalism.
Gain unlimited access, 50% fewer ads and a faster browsing experience.