June 13, 2013 Updated: June 13, 2013 at 6:50 am
The four El Paso County parks in Black Forest are known for their shaded trails, quiet vistas, tree-ringed picnic grounds and a handful of old-growth ponderosa pines.
Their fate was uncertain Wednesday. County parks director Tim Wolken said that because of ongoing firefighting efforts, officials had not been able to survey the area.
"We have seen fire issues adjacent to several of the park sites and I would assume there's a possibility we may have some damage, but until we have an opportunity to access the site and do an assessment, we won't know for sure," he said.
Black Forest Regional Park, Black Forest Section 16 and the still-undeveloped Pineries Open Space all appeared to be in the path of the flames, he said.
Fox Run Regional Park, farther east, initially was spared, though the flames were pushing in that direction Wednesday afternoon and fire crews were deployed to the park.
The county has done a lot of thinning work in the parks. Whether it was enough to save the structures, tennis courts, playgrounds and picnic pavilions at Black Forest Regional Park remains to be seen. Some of the first homes destroyed Tuesday were just west of the park, before winds pushed the flames eastward across a large swath of the forest.
While the man-made structures can be replaced, he said, some of the trees are irreplaceable. There are old-growth trees, spared from the axes of clear-cutting, and twisted pines, ceremonially scarred by the Ute Indians before whites settled the West.
Historian Celinda Kaelin, with the Pikes Peak Historical Society Museum in Florissant, has worked with the Ute Indian tribe for 15 years identifying these trees, including 100 in Black Forest, "one of the highest densities of prayer trees we've recorded."
Some are in Black Forest Regional Park, while many others are on private land.
"It's so sad, such a loss for the Ute people, because they have such a strong connection with their ancestors through these culturally scarred trees," Kaelin said.
Maps of the fire also showed the flames raced east through Black Forest Section 16 - a square of public land laced with trails along Vollmer, Shoup, Herring and Burgess roads - and immediately to the northeast to the Pineries Open Space. This 1,067-acre open space, at the northeast corner of Shoup and Vollmer roads, was donated to the county by developers, with trail construction to begin next year. While Wolken had no information on the fire's impact on this part of the forest, he said previous owners "had done a pretty nice job of doing fire mitigation work."
Wolken said county parks staff will be in touch with people who had reserved pavilions for events at Fox Run and Black Forest regional parks.