Community coalition launches fundraising effort for restoration of Glenwood Canyon after blaze

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

A community fundraising and planning effort similar to the one that resulted in ongoing restoration work after the 2018 Lake Christine Fire has launched with an eye on Glenwood Canyon and impacts from the Grizzly Creek Fire.

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) has partnered with the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, the city of Glenwood and H2O Ventures, operator of the Hanging Lake hiking permit and shuttle system, and other groups to form the Glenwood Canyon Restoration Alliance.

It’s one of three separate but cooperative fundraising efforts that are now underway, including a new fund established by the National Forest Foundation (NFF) and another through the Aspen Community Foundation.

Those efforts can work in concert to address not only environmental restoration and safety measures, but healing for the community itself from the fire’s impact, said Jacob Baker, communications and outreach coordinator with RFOV.

“The benefit of having volunteer- and community-led restoration is that everyone can heal together,” Baker said. “Taking part in a restoration effort is a form of participation and change … to help renew expectations, understandings and create new mental images of the landscape.”

Those who want to participate financially can give to any one or more of the fundraising efforts; each of which has a different purpose, but any of which can benefit Glenwood Canyon restoration for many years to come, he said.

The RFOV funds will go exclusively toward Grizzly Creek Fire restoration, he said. That can include a variety of volunteer-based projects such as trail and infrastructure rebuilding, reseeding of the burn area and other projects based on volunteer ability.

The NFF funds that are raised can be used more broadly across the entire White River National Forest, but will largely be used for Grizzly Creek Fire mitigation efforts, said Roger Poirier, recreation staff officer for the White River Forest.

“We don’t see these funds as being in competition,” Poirier said. “Our different partnerships do work in tandem to provide a bridge for the community to participate, and some different options for people to donate.”

NFF funds are important for the professional efforts that are needed to stabilize the fire burn area and help prevent potentially dangerous rockfalls and debris flows, especially in some of the heavily visited areas and along Interstate 70 as it passes through Glenwood Canyon. The NFF fund also charges a 15% administration fee.

Baker explained that Aspen Community Foundation (ACF) funds go first to help with the human impacts of both the Grizzly Creek and the Pine Gulch Fire, which has been burning since late July in far western Garfield County northwest of DeBeque.

Secondarily, they can be used for restoration efforts, and ACF donations also can be earmarked for a specific purpose, he said.

Restoration of a natural landscape after a major fire is not something that happens in one or two years, Baker also explained. “It’s going to take probably 10 years,” he said.

“After the Lake Christine Fire, we made a commitment to return multiple times every year for restoration projects there,” Baker said.

Last year, some 300 volunteers were involved in a major reseeding effort on Basalt Mountain where the fire burned 12,500 acres. This year, volunteers returned to remove some invasive species and do some other restoration work, he said.

“The purpose of our restoration work is not to return the landscape to precisely how it was prior to the fire,” he also explained.

That will be true of Glenwood Canyon, as well, which is a completely different environment than Basalt Mountain.

“People will see wildflowers that they’ve never seen before, and fungi that is new,” Baker said. “It will be changing in ways that can’t be anticipated right now.”

For that reason, much of the actual planning for the restoration work won’t likely happen until next year.

By contrast, the Grizzly Creek Fire is nearly three times the size of the Lake Christine burn area, at about 32,400 acres as of Friday. Access to much of the burn area within the canyon itself also will be next to impossible.

“For trees that were growing on 60-degree slopes, we’re not going to replant those trees,” Baker said. The risk assessment for volunteer crews also will be significantly more involved, he said.

And, because Glenwood Canyon, with popular attractions including the heavily visited Hanging Lake area, “Fundamentally, the expectations will just be different,” he said.

Initial assessments of Hanging Lake and the trail leading to it after the fire burned through that area is that the lake itself was not harmed and that the bridges and other trail infrastructure were not damaged.

RFOV had been planning its annual Hanging Lake work project to coincide with National Public Lands Day on Sept. 26. That will be postponed this year to plan for projects to be done next year once the needs are assessed, Baker said.

“The same will be true for the Grizzly Creek and No Name drainages,” he said of two other popular hiking trails in Glenwood Canyon.

Fire restoration planning also is about community building and education, he added.

“We want to ensure that this is an inclusive process, so people can learn about restoration at the same time they participate in it,” he said.