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High Park Fire Watershed Restoration Efforts Starting To Take Hold

Nathan Heffel
Restoration efforts in the High Park Burn scar are beginning to take hold

Despite September’s historic rains and flooding in Northern Colorado the restoration work continues in the watersheds heavily damaged by 2012’s High Park Fire.

Almost immediately after the High Park Fire was contained, water officials in Fort Collins and Greeley began devising plans to restore thousands of acres that burned dangerously close to the Poudre River. They ultimately came up with a two-year plan to treat  more than 5,000 acres using a combination of federal, state and local dollars.

During an aerial tour of the burn scar, Democratic State Representative Joann Ginal noted the erosion efforts.

“At the very beginning of the fire mitigation they were dropping straw to prevent erosion,” Ginal said. “This current time, they’re dropping mulch and they have been prior to the flooding that occurred a couple of weeks ago.” She said that from her perspective the mulched area was holding up better then areas restored earlier with straw.

And that’s good news for those conducting the restoration work.

Todd Boldt, the district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, says there were some concerns when September’s heavy rains fell over the burn scar.

“We were very concerned about that, especially as the rain continued and continued,” Boldt said. “We were all crossing our fingers hoping everything held up there. Once the rains died down we hopped in a helicopter and got access to a lot of areas down there.”

Patches of green are even starting to show through in the burn scar.

“[The mulch] is used in other areas throughout the county and the west,” Boldt said. “And we thought, let’s give it a try. It’s not as expensive as a different type of wood straw, it’s kind of middle of the road when it comes to cost, and so it worked out into how much money we had appropriated and were going to use and that’s why we went to that decision.”

Money to pay for the wood mulch comes from federal emergency watershed protection funds that had been previously authorized by congress

Even with these early successes, the process to full restoration from the High Park fire is going to take years.

Kevin Gertig, a water resources and treatment manager with the city of Fort Collins, says everything is right on schedule.

“There are a lot of variables involved,” Gertig said. “But in terms of being on tract we’re feeling very good about that, however there’s more work to do in 2014 and beyond.”

While Fort Collins continues to use the Colorado-Big Thompson water project for its drinking water, Greeley has returned to using water from the Poudre River.

With winter soon approaching, mitigation work will start to wrap. Gertig says the entire area will be re-evaluated next year to see where federal restoration dollars need to go.

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