Rocky Mountain National Park details damage on western side as it looks to future
With nearly 30,000 acres burned in Rocky Mountain National Park by the two largest wildfires in Colorado history, the western side of the park remains closed.
While some areas on the eastern side reopened Friday, the level of fire impacts and ongoing safety assessments keep the Grand Lake entrance to Rocky closed. A number of park structures were also lost on the western side of the park, officials said in a release.
Those include the park’s Trails and Tack Barn along with all its contents, the Grand Lake entrance station office — though the entrance kiosks still stand — the historic Onahu Lodge, Green Mountain cabins and Harbison Meadows vault toilet facility. The four bay garage structure at Trail River Ranch and all its historic contents within were also lost.
The main park housing area, Kawuneeche Visitor Center, Trail River Ranch main building and Buckaroo Barn were all spared.
“This has been a challenging fire year for us and for all Coloradoans,” park superintendent Darla Sidles said. “Our staff are part of these communities, and our hearts go out to all our friends, family and neighbors who have suffered and lost as a result of these fires.”
In some remote locations of the park, the fires are still active and a number of hazards persist. Park staff cannot get into all areas for a full structure assessment, officials added, so a more thorough assessment of structures will continue as fires are contained and hazards mitigated.
One success park officials say they have seen lies in the fire mitigation and fuel management efforts over the last two decades.
“On the west side of the park, fuels treatments were instrumental to protect the Kawuneechee housing and visitor center,” Fire Management Officer Mike Lewelling said. “On the east side, fuels treatments slowed fire spread, reduced tree torching which causes spot fires, and reduced the intensity allowing firefighters to be more aggressive and go direct.”
The fires burned in spruce fir and lodgepole pine forests with a high degree of beetle-killed trees, ponderosa pine woodlands and upland meadows. Due to the extreme dry, the fire also burned through ecosystems that would otherwise be expected to buffer the fire such as some of the wetlands, riparian areas and aspen groves.
Officials added that while fire is a natural process, recovery could be hampered by changed environmental conditions and the enhanced spread of exotic plants. Also, more water runoff is anticipated before plant cover re-establishes, which could affect downstream ecosystems, infrastructure and water systems.
Rocky is preparing a Burned Area Emergency Response Plan which will assess the burned area and potential post-fire disturbance, recommending activities to mitigate those impacts.
“The natural resources will recover with new life sprouting up in the fire’s footprint, and we will move forward and continue to do our best to manage Rocky Mountain National Park,” Sidles said.
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