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Fires And Floods Crimp Northern Colorado Outdoor Recreation

U.S. Forest Service
Deep ruts along the Young Gulch Trail in the Roosevelt National Forest; Nov. 19, 2013.

Colorado’s historic floods, coupled with the 2012 wildfires, were especially punishing for many Northern Colorado recreation areas. Six months after the water receded, officials with the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest are still working to gauge the extent of the damage.

U.S. Forest Service officials have announced that Young Gulch Trail, a popular hiking spot in the Poudre Canyon, won’t reopen this year because of heavy damage.

"The forest is still there, there are still a lot of opportunities for folks to recreate – but it may not be the same opportunity you were used to before," said USFS spokeswoman Reghan Cloudman.

A prime example is along County Road 43 near the Glen Haven area, where three picnic sites were washed away – including the land underneath the picnic tables.

Credit U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Forest Service
Debris from the flood rests behind a building at the Lower North Fork Picnic Area. The picnic sites were largely washed away by the flood. Dec. 13, 2013.

"There’s no place to even rebuild a picnic area where those sites were," Cloudman said.

Simply getting in to assess the impact to the forest has been difficult. At the end of February, USFS officials completed an aerial survey.

One critical issue they identified was the number of heavily damaged roads [.pdf], which could impede access for emergency responders – especially problematic with wildfire season right around the corner.

Credit U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Forest Service
A volunteer stands hip-deep in one of the many ruts on the Young Gulch Trail following the flood.

"There’s so many miles of roads out there that are going to need some work. We can’t get to all of them," Cloudman said. "[Because] some of those roads won’t get fixed, we needed to ensure that we had a way for fire response."

To that end, officials have secured a Type-3 helicopter that will be available to respond to fires in the flood-damaged area from mid-June to mid-September. It’s similar to the one the ARNF had on standby in 2013.

Forest officials will continue working to repair the damaged roads and other infrastructure. The Federal Highway Administration approved nearly $2.2 million for qualifying roads on the Canyon Lakes and Boulder ranger districts. Work on those projects will begin as soon as weather permits.

"We have a very dynamic landscape, nature sometimes does these things, and we don’t always like it, but it was nature at work," Cloudman said. "Now we have to look at what’s left, and how we can best utilize what is left for folks."

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