Want to hike Waldo Canyon? Fuggetaboutit.
It's been almost 5 years after the Waldo Canyon fire devastated more than 18,000 acres of land and destroyed 346 homes. The effects of the fire are not always easy to see, especially from the now barricaded trail head on Highway 24 just west of Manitou Springs. But local hikers want to know when the once very popular trail will reopen.
The simple answer is: no one really knows. But it likely won't be for many years.
At a recent presentation hosted by the Society for Ecological Restoration and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Leah Shipstead, a hydrologist for U.S. Forest Service and Carol Ekarius, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, updated the public on the recovery of the Waldo Canyon fire watershed.
The Waldo Canyon fire did more than just burn down trees and scrub ground cover off of the surface of the earth, It changed how water flows down the steep slopes surrounding the canyon and eventually into Fountain Creek. Heavy rains almost immediately after the fire was extinguished inundated Highway 24 and Manitou Springs — the sight of trees, boulders and even cars floating down the highway is still fresh in many peoples minds. With no living trees and plants left in the canyon, made up of porous Pikes Peak granite and limestone, water flows unimpeded down Ute Pass. Even the usually narrow Waldo Creek grew wider and deeper in the months after the fire. Sediment from the Pikes Peak granite surrounding the area washed into the canyon, piling up to depths of 6 more feet in some places.
According to Shipstead and Ekarius, efforts at rehabilitation and recovery of the Waldo Canyon burn scar have been successful, but the progress is slow. Detention ponds, water flow control structures, tree planting, removal of sediment and more has been done and is still on-going. Damaged soil may be inhibiting growth, and while some ground cover efforts are taking hold, it takes natural root systems to really keep the soil in place. Tree planting is on-going, but it takes years for them to grow a big enough root system to do any good.
Further, the steep slopes of the canyon make work difficult and dangerous, and what little topsoil used to be in some parts of the canyon before the fire has been washed away, leaving just bedrock in many places.
All of this is to say that, given the state of Waldo Canyon, simply put, it's too dangerous to allow trail users back into the canyon, and human activity in the canyon can also disturb the fragile eco-systems, further inhibiting the recovery of the canyon.
Mother Nature needs more time to run her course.
Happy (other) Trails!
Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org.