I headed up the road a couple weeks ago to check out the forest restoration work at Blodgett Open Space. The City Forestry department is thinning out some of the ponderosa pines, scrub oak, and Douglas firs, cutting out the understory and getting rid of some of the older trees to make way for new growth.
Blodgett Peak is a special place for me. I can see it from my office window, less than five miles northwest as the crow flies. It was one of the first hikes I did with the Colorado Mountain Club more than 15 years ago. We took a convoluted route from the Air Force Academy to the northwest side of the peak to view the remains of a C-49J military cargo plane that crashed into the hillside back in February 1943.
The peak and its surrounding trails were the training ground for one of my mountain climbing buddies, Patrick Niedringhaus. Patrick was one of those guys who always kept a cool head in tough situations — the kind of guy you wanted to hike with. I’d done a couple of fourteeners with him: Mount Sherman and Mountain Bierstadt in spring snow. We had ended up in a white-out on Sherman, but Patrick was his usual calm self and we made it safely to the top. Bierstadt was more pleasant, but I remember the wind whipping up and carrying off one of our party’s gloves. Patrick took off after it, retrieved it from a pile of rocks on the other side of an icy slope and returned it to its owner. That’s the kind of guy he was. Patrick did a lot of runs on Blodgett Peak to stay in shape, and after he was killed in an avalanche on Kelso Ridge near Georgetown in 2005, a commemorative bench honoring his memory was placed at the Blodgett Open Space Trailhead. I always think of Patrick when I hike there.
The next year I hiked to the summit of Blodgett Peak. The Colorado Mountain Club was doing a book on hiking Colorado’s roadless trails, and I volunteered to do the Blodgett Peak chapter. I had hiked all over the unranked 9,423-foot mountain but had never been to the top. My hiking pal Doug Hatfield and I took the standard route this time, a trail leading to the summit. We saw the famous swarm of Blodgett Peak ladybugs on top, doing what ladybugs do. Apparently, no one knows why the speckled red beetles congregate on certain rocky mountaintops. I’ve seen the phenomena several times on Colorado peaks since, but the Blodgett ladybugs were my first.
In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire threatened to ignite Blodgett Peak. Smoke plumes on the mountainside held up the declaration of containment, but on July 10 (my birthday, incidentally) the smoke had dissipated, the flames were out, and the fire was declared 100 percent contained.
Blodgett Peak has changed over the years, but not much. The area is being expanded from 167 acres to 231 acres of open space and lots of new trails crisscross the land above the trailhead. Patrick’s bench is still there, and there’s a second one at the top of Chickadee Trail. The summit trail hasn’t changed, and I suppose the ladybugs will be back again at the end of the summer.
Anyway, I went to check out the reforestation. It wasn’t what I expected. Hiking up the Red Squirrel Trail south of the trailhead took me through an area that looked like it had been run over by a lot of heavy equipment — more like deforestation than reforestation. The steep, deforested area was stripped to the dirt and any small trees had been run over and destroyed along with the older trees, which I assume were the intended targets. I don’t know anything about reforestation and fuel mitigation, granted, but this didn’t look right to me. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe they’re going to put something down to prevent the unavoidable erosion caused by the next good rainfall. Maybe they’re going to replant some little trees — new green growth to take the place of the older trees as they die off. I don’t know. I don’t like to criticize good intentions, and I’m sure whoever put this project means well, but I hope there is someone looking after whatever’s going on over there on the mountainside. Blodgett Peak is a special place for a lot of people here on the northwest side. I welcome the changes, but it would be nice if some of it was left just as I remember it.
Susan Joy Paul is an author, editor and freelance writer. She has lived on Colorado Springs’ northwest side for more than 20 years. Contact Susan with comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.