Ravaged by 2020’s most devastating fires Colorado has seen in years, the Grizzly Creek Canyon trail system still dons its blackened burn scars. Over 30,000 acres of recreation areas were decimated, inspiring efforts to seed a season of growth.
To witness one of the most breathtaking alpine landscapes in our country being destroyed in the aftermath of both changes in environment and human error is heartbreaking. It’s like the crash and burn of a toxic love affair; the remnants still smoldering long after the event.
Prompted by our Buy A Pumpkin, Plant 5 Trees Campaign from October of 2020, Engel & Völkers implemented its own community-powered stewardship to help restore our plighted woodland playground.
It Takes a Valley to Raise a Forest
Channeling our inner Paul Bunyan, the Engel & Völkers team from Aspen to Glenwood Springs supported this quest for manual fire mitigation. Colorado presented a bluebird day for our May 13th, first annual Engel and Völkers volunteer day. Real estate advisors and support staff from Engel & Völkers arrived that morning at the site of the Grizzly Creek Trailhead in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. EV-branded teambuilding swag was distributed to the participants to keep them hydrated and protected from the oppressive sun; we persevered.
Our EV volunteers were given the option to join one of three field groups. Those who wanted the ultimate work-out, chose to take the “high” road and hike the (+/-) three-mile uphill, trimming back brush, moving rocks and other debris. Others chose the “low ground,” but that wasn’t any less strenuous. They had to yank and manually excavate old, unused irrigation tubing and pick up trash (plastic, wrappers, glass) in and along the Grizzly Creek rest area. Additionally, a third group was assigned to also trim and exfoliate trails, but at a lower elevation.
In it for the Long Haul
Guided by staff of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, we trudged up and down the gulch along the Colorado River. We hauled hand saws, shovels, axes, hoes and other medieval-like tools and weaponry to battle the wounds the Grizzly Creek Fire left in its wake. The restoration of the degraded trails and frontcountry was hard work: hiking up to nearly 10,000’ elevation while carrying cumbersome tools. We were cutting and sawing back overgrowth, picking rocks up off the trail, and literally levying boulders that had careened down the mountainsides, taking the toothpick-like charred trees with them.
Breaks were taken to dip our toes in the Bear and Grizzly Creeks along the way. While restoring our habitat by hand, we encountered fly fishermen, runners, and hikers who thanked us for our work to keep our trails accessible as we bushwhacked our way by.
The beauty of this expedition was that all of the brush and limb trimmers, rock rollers, and scouts ended up merging somewhere halfway up on the trail. At the end of the day, the triage of volunteer groups reconvened for cold beverages and snacks at the trailhead – sunkissed, sweaty, and sated with pride.
Proactive & Collective Action Boasts a Season of Growth
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) is a local non-profit organization focused on the objective of “renewing landscape and community through collective action.” RFOV proactively works to conserve, restore, and sustain our natural environs. They believe the health of our rivers, reservoirs, creeks, and woodlands promote seasons of growth and lushness, and also maintains the physical beauty we all behold so ardently.
Fires Gone Wild in the Rockies
In an interview with Jake Anderson, a New Castle native, and Aspen Fire Department’s recently appointed Deputy Chief of Operations, he deems the effects of climate change, less snowfall, and hotter temperatures as catalysts for the significant increase in wildfire danger.
“The 2000 fire in Mesa Verde called the ‘Bircher Fire’ burned over 23,600 acres, which at the time was the largest timber fire (recorded) in Colorado history.” Three of the five largest fires in Colorado history are from 2020. For example, one of last year’s most devastating was the East Troublesome Fire, which spread over 190,000 acres and sent plumes of ominous smoke rising to 40,000 feet in the air.
“The fire literally jumped the continental divide, leaping over a 14,278’ wall of granite and volcanic rock, and established itself on the other side.”
Between October 21, 2020 and October 22, 2020, the magnitude of the fire exploded from 18,550 acres to 187,964 acres. To put it simply, that’s nearly tenfold in size within just 24 hours!
A Long Summer Season Ahead for Colorado
The Colorado Wildfire Season has been known to start as early as April. On June 18th, 2021, twelve different brush fires were ignited by lightning strikes within one hour. Additionally, oxygen from the 35 mph gusts of wind fueled the flames to ferocity.
And those were just the fires that were officially reported.
As of June 30th, over 20,000 acres have burned in Colorado, and the following fires were, or are still ablaze:
- Oil Springs Fire, White River National Forest: 12,613 Acres (58% Contained)
- Sylvan Fire, White River National Forest: 3,792 Acres (44% Contained)
- Trail Canyon Fire, Ute Tribal lands, Montezuma County: 881 Acres (90% Contained)
- West Fire, Moffat County: 3,429 Acres (98% Contained)
- Collom Fire, Moffat County: 640 Acres (95% Contained)
- Wild Cow Fire, Garfield County: 560 Acres (100% Contained)
- Muddy Slide Fire, Routt National Forest: 4,093 Acres (21% Contained)
- Straight Creek Fire, White River National Forest: 8 Acres (100% Contained)
Lightning is suspected to be the cause of the more recent Sylvan Fire which poses the closest threat to the Roaring Fork Valley. Recently, the Roaring Fork rain dances finally answered our prayers. While the precipitation has helped retard the speed of the rapidly growing fires, it has not been enough to extinguish the flames for good.
Stop, Drop, And Roll With The Punches - Protect Your Home and Investments
It’s imperative the Roaring Fork community takes fire safety precautions now, before more oppressive summer heat kicks in, causing the winds to pick up. This should include revisiting your home owner’s insurance plan or renter’s insurance. Some homes may incur substantial increases in the cost of their policies if they don’t fit certain criteria.
Stuck Between a Rock and Hard Place
For example, a home that is ‘off the beaten path,’ or not within close proximity to a fire station, may find insurance is denied or more expensive. If you have a cedar shake roof as opposed to asphalt, composition shingle, or metal, the home is at higher risk and also may not be insurable. Many alpine communities in the Tetons, Rockies, and Sierras have implemented moratoriums on the installation of wood shingle roofs due to their flammability in a wildfire.
Taking Advantage of A Free Wildfire Risk Assessment
With over 25 years as a firefighter, Chief Anderson recommends residents request a free wildfire risk assessment of their property. This request is not a mandate, but is merely recommended should one want their home to survive. When performing spring clean up, or when constructing a new home, there are landscaping and hardscaping methods one can apply in an effort to detour flames away from your home.
Let’s Face It, Knowledge is Power
In addition to enrolling in a weightier insurance policy, other wildfire defense systems can be administered by homeowner’s themselves. This includes the removal of dead vegetation from plants and lower branches from tall trees – similar to some of the trail maintenance we executed with RFOV. Around the home and outdoor spaces, keep gutters clean and free of leaf debris. Clear out window screens and attic vents, and keep firewood stored at least 30 feet away from home.
When asked what he thinks our biggest fire threat is to date, Chief Andersen responded, “Drought, climate change, and more people living here. The secret’s out. There are many more people living in Colorado now. They want to live more remotely.” The 2021 season of growth is not simply of natural regeneration, but an unprecedented growth in the Roaring Fork Valley’s population. The reality is, there is little remoteless left, as more and more visitors are becoming permanent residents.
Where There Are Sparks, There Are Flames!
The flammability of our landscape has been exacerbated by the current urban interface and sprawl in Colorado since the COVID-19 crisis. A lack of knowledge and experience among those coming from more humid parts of the country with higher rainfall may partially contribute to our fire risk.
The Roaring Fork Valley’s climate and topography are extreme. The juxtaposition of dense woods, underbrush, and bone dry soil can result in perfect tinder for tragedy. These human factors (among guests and locals), in conjunction with changes in our natural environment, have created the “perfect storm.” Some newcomers may be simply unaware of how dangerous a single spark from lawn equipment, a gunshot, dragging chains from commercial vehicles, one cigarette ash, a firepit, or firework can be to our environment.
Chief Andersen said we are lucky to have had a late, wet spring. However, that can be good or bad. A season of growth after a soaking of rain is good initially, until another drought hits. The new growth yields more fine fuels, which are more reactive to fluctuations in weather. These finer fuels are the biggest carriers of flames. Consequently, it’s a double-edged sword.
“The Phoenix Must Burn to Emerge”-Janet Fitch
It is still heartwarming to see how lush the Grizzly Creek Trail has become already, since mid-May. Even among the charcoal deadfall, wildflowers are forcing their way through the soil, boasting a new season of growth. Mother Nature is fierce, not only in her fury, but in her fight for survival. It is evident in the jubilant whistles of the various birds. The rushing rivers and creeks – their waters like blood, pulsing through the arterial roots of the trees.
Be The Toast Of The Town
RFOV relies on sponsorships and donations to support their cause. Engel & Völkers has contributed by proudly adopting the Lower Three Gulch Trail at the bottom of Mushroom Rock/Red Hill in Carbondale. We strongly encourage more volunteer participation from our local neighbors to help organizations including, but not limited to:
- Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers
- Glenwood Canyon Restoration Alliance
- Colorado Parks and Wildlife
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
- US Forest Service
- Our Brave and Bold Local Fire Departments
- Roaring Fork Fire Rescue
BeliEVe. EVolve. PersEVere.
Inspired by the leadership of Erik and Summer Berg (Engel & Völkers’ Owners/Managing Broker), our team is fueled by a mantra to manifest our goals: BeliEVe, EVolve, PersEVere. First, one has to believe, then be willing to evolve, and lastly, have the courage to persevere. Engel & Völkers shall persevere in support of our landscape and the magnificent homes we sell to our real estate clients. By hosting bi-annual events, we will raise money and participate (hands-on) in the field, nurturing and protecting the lands we love.