Nearly 300 volunteers step in to help reseed Basalt Mountain after Lake Christine Fire
Nearly a year after the Lake Christine Fire broke out in Basalt, members of the community were finally able to come together and begin the restoration process. With no lack of willing participants, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers led a reseeding project Saturday, having to even turn away people who wanted to help.
“We did have to go ahead and put a capacity limit, just for what we can actually accomplish in a day and the amount of people we can handle. But we are thrilled at the turnout,” said Olivia Deihs, program manager for RFOV. “We are so thankful for everyone’s community support and coming out to start the healing process. There will be ongoing projects for years and years going on Basalt Mountain.”
With around 300 people pre-registered and nearly that many who showed up at Basalt Middle School on Saturday, the project showed more than anything how ready the community is to move on from the wildfire that burned more than 12,500 acres last summer. What began as a small brush fire near the Basalt gun range July 3 soon became a federal emergency that destroyed three homes and caused hundreds to be evacuated.
Along with RFOV, the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife came together to organize Saturday’s project. The reseeding efforts took place over roughly 500 acres of Parks and Wildlife land near the gun range. Volunteers took shuttles from the school to the burn area where they spent several hours hand-seeding areas that couldn’t be reached by machines or through aerial techniques.
“It’s awesome to be part of a community like this. It doesn’t take much of an ask to gather this many people behind a like cause,” said Matt Yamashita, the area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which manages around 2,000 acres on Basalt Mountain. “As part of our process, we are trying to manage this for wildlife. We are going to be planting seeds up there that in five, 10 years, hopefully we’ll see a bunch of deer and elk following suit.”
While general aesthetics and the return of wildlife are part of the restoration efforts, at the top of the list is soil and erosion control. A slow-growing, juniper-pinyon woodland, volunteers were primarily planting seeds for various native grasses and shrubs to help stabilize the soil. Without the vegetation, flooding can become a major concern in post-burn areas.
“It’s about soil retention,” said Rick Lofaro, the executive director for Roaring Fork Conservancy. “Roots hold soil together. Plants take up water in an area that’s just burned. The concern is how severe the burn was and how hot the soil got and whether or not the soil becomes hydrophobic, and in a hydrophobic situation it’s like water running off a parking lot.”
Lofaro said it’s also important to re-establish the native plant species as events like the Lake Christine Fire leave the door open for non-native species and weeds to take root. It’s something they will monitor over many years.
While Saturday’s project was a start, it’s only that. Only those few thousand acres of Colorado Parks and Wildlife land on Basalt Mountain are safe for volunteers at the moment. Most of the remaining burn area is part of the national forest, where downed and burned trees remain as hazards and will need to be removed before the public can safely help with the restoration efforts.
For those who may have been turned away Saturday, there will be plenty more projects over the coming years related to the Lake Christine Fire where volunteers will be needed.
“This community comes together like no other that I’ve seen,” Lofaro said. “It’s great that we have so many volunteers coming out to participate and really the best prescription for this forest type is to do seeding and work on erosion control.”
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The Basalt Chamber of Commerce received a technical assistance grant from the state of Colorado this year to develop a concise and distinctive brand. It unveiled the result for the public on Wednesday. It will be used in the Colorado Tourism Office’s official guide and in other marketing efforts starting in 2020.