Following the devastation from Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012, the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI) is beginning a two year public planning process to reimagine the future of the area. Last year, RMFI received a $45,000 State Trails Planning Grant to initiate the process.
Jennifer Peterson, executive director of the institute, said the meeting is a chance for the public to share what they envision for the area.
“We get a lot of requests from people who [want to see] how they can come out and help rebuild the trails,” Peterson said.
Now, the public will also be able to learn more about what needs to be done for the Waldo Canyon corridor to be accessible once again.
Peterson says the process could take up to three or four years. That includes two years for a State Trails Planning Grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife followed by the necessary time for the U.S. Forest Service to conduct any NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) studies and assessments required for projects implemented on federal land.
Peterson hopes the NEPA process will be expedited by a robust planning period.
“In June of 2020 we can give our final set of recommendations for the area and since that will already be vetted by the public, that may help the NEPA process move a little faster,” she said.
Susan Davies with the Trails and Open Space Coalition said ideas for Waldo Canyon include a new trailhead and trail alignments that reflect what people would like to do there. Davies hopes residents at the meeting will share what they loved about the area before the fire destroyed nearly 20,000 acres and close to 350 nearby homes.
“We know that it offered some great trail experience and people have such great memories of what used to be like,” she said. “We all know that’s changed with the fire. It will be beautiful again...but it’s definitely different.”
Davies said the fragility of the soil in the area means it can’t be open to horseback riding initially. As was the case in the past, motorized vehicles such as ATV’s will not be allowed either.
“That still means that people that want to mountain bike and hike and run... what could it be [for them]? Should we consider dispersed camping in that area? It is a forest service property so that's a possibility,” she said.
According to RMFI, the national forest surrounding Waldo Canyon reopened to the public in October 2017 and is accesible from Rampart Range Road. The trailhead on Highway 24 remains closed, though, due to damage from the fire and flooding that followed.
The first public meeting is at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, January 16th at the Westside Community Center in Colorado Springs, 1628 West Bijou Street. Subsequent meetings are scheduled for April and October. For more information, visit www.waldocanyonplanning.com.
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