LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. -- A group of volunteers restoring a trail system high in the Rocky Mountains destroyed by the largest wildfire in Colorado history last fall received $15,000 from the Denver7 Gives wildfire relief fund to continue their work.
It is not for the faint of heart.
“209,000 acres burned, about 120 miles of trails burned,” said Mike Corbin, chair of the board for Poudre Wilderness Volunteers (PWV). “Just to give you some perspective, in 1986, 8,000 acres burned just to the south of here and at the time, it was the largest wildfire in Colorado history. So, that just shows it’s a different world we’re living in.”
The forest has been decimated in some places, resembling more of a moonscape than anything on Earth.
“And there’s a tremendous danger of flooding,” Corbin said. “There’s mud and slime, so we’re going to work those drainage issues.”
PWV has an army of volunteers who have worked to restore nearly 50 miles of scorched trails so far.
“It’s work, but it’s fun,” said Kathleen Talkington, a volunteer who drove up from Greeley. “We joined PWV because we were on a hike before COVID and we met some volunteers on the trail and they were so friendly and so helpful, and we were like, we want to do that.”
The volunteers are putting in the labor so these trails can open again.
“Most of the trails are fire here, no fire there,” Corbin said. “People will look at the fire map and say, ‘Well, that whole area is destroyed – we can’t go there.’ It’s not. These are what we call mosaic fires. They burn in mosaic patterns. There are some areas not burned at all, while there’s other areas with everything burned. And a lot in between. So, we have to get the trails back open.”
It is volunteer work because the Canyon Lakes Ranger District no longer has the manpower to keep up.
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“Thirty years ago they had 35 summer hires,” Corbin said. “This summer, they have Matt.”
“I’m the wilderness and trails manager for the Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the Arapahoe and Roosevelt national forests and Pawnee National Grasslands,” said Matt Cowan.
The lone ranger.
“Yeah, that’s about right,” Cowan said.
Cowan says he couldn’t be more appreciative of these volunteers.
“[They're] doing the important work we need to do to open these trails back up to the public,” Cowan said.
But, as the head volunteer, Corbin will tell you — it’s not easy.
“Most are retirees,” Corbin said. “I retired 11 years ago out of Houston.”
This group isn’t exactly a bunch of spring chickens.
“Our average age is about 65,” Corbin said. “One of our crew leaders is 80.”
With so much work to be done, PWV recently launched a GoFundMe.
“We’ve never done it before and one of our guys said, ‘Well, could we do that?’ We said, ‘Well, we don’t know,’” Corbin said.
They did it.
“We ended up with over $47,000,” Corbin said.
It’s money they’ll use for tools and lumber, but mainly to hire some youngsters for their muscle.
“Amen,” said Talkington.
“Hiring college kids to come out and do trail work has some advantages,” Corbin said. “We can do a lot, but having 20-year-olds is a big advantage.
And you, our Denver7 viewers, pitched in, too — quite generously through the wildfire victim’s fund.
“Mike and crew – in appreciation of everything you guys have done and on behalf of Denver7 Gives, we recognize all the work you have left to do,” said Denver7’s Russell Haythorn. “So, we’d like to present you with this check for $15,000.”
“Thank you very much,” Corbin said. “We appreciate it. And we will make good use of this money rebuilding the trails up here in the next year. The main thing is hiring college-aged crews to come up and do the physical labor.”
“We’ve got to keep this alive and we’ve got to keep the trails clear,” Talkington said. “And we’ve got to get people back in the mountains. And the way to do that is to work.”
“The work they are doing should help these trails survive erosion impacts for years to come,” Cowan said. “These guys have just been awesome.”
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