Rocky Mountain National Park provides assessment of damage from East Troublesome Fire

11-6-20 Grand Lake Entrance Station Office East Troublesome Fire  (2) Courtesy National Park Service.jpg
Posted at 4:07 PM, Nov 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-06 18:07:23-05

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. — Rocky Mountain National Park is continuing to assess the impact of the East Troublesome Fire after nearly 30,000 acres burned within the park's boundaries.

Friday, the park released information on some of their losses, including:

  • Trails and Tack Barn and all its contents
  • Grand Lake entrance station office
  • The historic Onahu Lodge and Green Mountain cabins
  • Harbison Meadows vault toilet facility
  • Four bay garage structure at Trail River Ranch and all its historic contents
  • The historic Fern Lake Backcountry Patrol Cabin

“It pains our hearts to see the loss of cherished structures like the Green Mountain cabins and Onahu Lodge, located along Trail Ridge Road in the Kawuneeche Valley,” park superintendent Darla Sidles said. “Both were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places for their rustic design and association with early 20th century development of ranching and resort industries. But more importantly they represented an important part of our shared history and culture and were cherished landmarks. They were also where many of our seasonal staff were housed.”

The Grand Lake entrance kiosks, main park housing area, Kawuneeche Visitor Center, Trail River Ranch main building and Buckaroo Barn were all spared, according to the park's public affairs officer, Kyle Patterson.

As of Friday, the fires are still active in some remote locations and remain hazardous. Parks staff can't get into all of the areas, so they plan to provide a more thorough assessment when it's safe to do so.

Fire Management Officer Mike Lewelling said it was recognized over 20 years ago that Estes Park and the communities near the park were at risk from wildfire due to longer fire seasons, larger fires and mountain pine beetle outbreak. The park’s fire program has engaged in fuels management practices and over the last five years have put together a more comprehensive fuels program with the goal of creating a "catcher’s mitt" around Estes Park and other areas of the park boundary near Allenspark and Lily Lake. They've implemented more aggressive fuels reduction projects including thinning and prescribed fire.

“It was widely accepted that these fuels treatments on their own would probably not stop a fire, but they give firefighters a chance,” Lewelling said. “On the west side of the park, fuels treatments were instrumental to protect the Kawuneechee housing and visitor center. 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 areas with a high-degree of beetle-killed trees, ponderosa pine woodlands and upland meadows. Due to the extreme dry conditions, the fire also burned through ecosystems that would otherwise be expected to buffer fire effects, like wetlands, riparian areas and aspen groves.

Natural recovery could be hampered by changed environmental conditions and the enhanced spread of exotic plants. Before plant cover re-establishes, the park anticipates more water runoff, which could affect downstream ecosystems, infrastructure and water systems.

Rocky Mountain National Park will prepare a Burned Area Emergency Response Plan, which will assess the burned area and the potential for post-fire disturbance and recommend activities to mitigate these impacts. The park will pursue research and monitoring opportunities to track and understand post-fire effects and recovery.

Parts of Rocky Mountain National Park opened Friday following a two week closure due to the East Troublesome Fire's impact.