Blodgett Peak Open Space will be open to the public on Saturday morning after volunteers and city officials wrapped up more than a year of recovery work since the Waldo Canyon fire scorched more than half of the land in the city park.
A group of about 40 people representing the city, volunteer agencies, donors and the media took a hike along the Gambel Oak Trail on Thursday afternoon to celebrate the reopening of the area along the Wildland-Urban Interface in northwest Colorado Springs.
Scott Abbott, the city's Parks, Trails and Open Space supervisor, made the announcement, noting that Blodgett Peak would remain closed if it weren't for "hard work, scars, dust and dirt" endured by hundreds of workers from the Mile High Youth Corps, the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, and U.S. Air Force Academy cadets.
"It looked apocalyptic," said Col. Marty France describing what the terrain at Blodgett looked like when he and more than 100 cadets arrived for their first day of work in September 2012.
"Everything was really black," he said. "The ground was covered in soot and there were only a few scrub oaks starting to peek through."
On Thursday, areas in the burn area teemed with Gabel oak ground cover. Grass flourished where workers had re-seeded. There was evidence of several thousand hours of work that had been done.
The cadets laid log erosion barriers and worked to reshape run-off channels after workers for the city and RMFI pinpointed what needed to be done. Abbott said the Youth Corps did the "touch-up work" this summer, reclaiming the trails and making sure any dangerous trees were cut down near the multi-use paths.
The trails in the 167-acre open space were wiped out after the fire that burned more than 18,000 acres, destroyed 347 homes and killed two people in June 2012, officials said. They described roots, ash, sediment and overgrown ground cover that had to be cleared away.
All the work done at Blodgett Peak Open Space was paid for by $75,000 in grants from Great Outdoors Colorado and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation.
Jeff Webb, with the city's parks department, said there have been a lot of "negative stories" associated with the Waldo Canyon burn scar, referring to flash floods in July and early August that claimed one life, destroyed homes in Manitou Springs and left U.S. 24 closed for hours.
"This is a chance for folks to see what recovery looks like," Webb said.
Abbott said people around the city and in the nearby Peregrine neighborhood have been clamoring for a year to have Blodgett Peak, which became a city park in 2001, reopened. Now residents and visitors will be able to see up close what the fire did to the forest. He added that students will also be able to enter Blodgett and use it as a learning tool.
"We are interested in getting people up into the burn area, so they can see what has been done," Abbott said.