Those waiting to experience the Waldo Canyon they knew before 2012’s wildfire will continue to wait, but this week they can add to the budding discussion of future recreation in the once-beloved area.

“What do you hope the ‘new’ Waldo Canyon experience will offer?”

That’s one question in the online survey set to open Wednesday, kick-starting a public process expected to last 18 months under a grant to Rocky Mountain Field Institute, the local nonprofit that last week rallied stakeholders alongside contracted consultant Tapis Associates.

In the first “Waldo Roundtable,” 19 people discussed the survey before three public workshops, the first of which will be Jan. 16 at the Westside Community Center.

The survey, to be on waldocanyonplanning.com, also asks: In the next 5-10 years, if the Re-Imagine Waldo Canyon Plan could accomplish one thing, what should it be?

The goal is to make recommendations by June 2020 to the U.S. Forest Service, said Rocky Mountain Field Institute Executive Director Jennifer Peterson. The Forest Service would complete a potentially lengthy analysis before implementing the plan, which seeks to establish trailheads and more outlets to untrammeled wilds across the foothills.

“The public is gonna want stuff on the ground next week. It’s tough. It does take time,” Peterson said. “But I think a lot of this work up front will result in a better plan and better outdoor recreation opportunities in the long run.”

Perhaps the most eager to lend feedback are those with sweet memories of the Waldo Canyon Trail, which took users on a scenic loop from their parking spot beside U.S. 24. Barricaded since the fire, that parking lot remains in doubt, with highway officials advising against it. They say it poses a safety risk to drivers heading west through the canyon.

“I think we’re starting this project with that being a given, that that’s not an option moving forward,” Peterson said.

Susan Davies, one of Re-Imagine Waldo Canyon’s key partners as head of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, said she “totally understands” the safety concerns.

“At the same time, I wouldn’t mind a little more information,” Davies said. “I have to believe communities have similar problems and have figured them out, maybe with signals or signs to slow down. I don’t know. I think all possibilities should be truly considered.”

Advocates see another possibility up the highway, around Cascade. Locals have long followed rogue trails into the canyon.

But several easements on private properties would have to be acquired for an official trailhead there. That’s a “daunting process,” Davies said. “But it can be done.”

Other possibilities could be off Rampart Range Road, across the area the Forest Service reopened to the public last October. That opening, combined with Rocky Mountain Field Institute’s planning grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Great Outdoors Colorado, signaled that the burn scar is ready for recreation again.

But the land around the closed trail remains sensitive and dangerous, the path washed out in some places, said Peterson, whose organization has partnered with the Forest Service to restore the scar.

“We anticipate the public assuming they’re gonna get the same Waldo Canyon experience pre-fire. The big thing we need to get across is: It’s not going to be the same,” Peterson said. “This reimagining process allows us to look bigger than the Waldo Canyon Trail.”

Forest Service officials could not be reached, but Peterson said land managers are open to a possible trail network expanding north across Rampart Range to Blodgett Peak. The dreaming shouldn’t stop there, Davies said, emphasizing the need for more input.

“Given it’s going to be a changed experience,” she said, “how do we make it the best experience possible?”

Seth is a features writer at The Gazette, covering the outdoors and the people and places that make Colorado colorful.

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