Over the decades, Forest plans morph to include greater threat of wildfire
By Rob Carrigan, firstname.lastname@example.org
The wheels turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.
I thought about that when considering plans for Pike National Forest — recent plans, and those from 50 years ago.
In 2014 in a meeting at Ute Pass Cultural Center in Woodland Park, I asked Pikes Peak District Ranger Oscar Martinez about any specific areas of concern as it pertains to the threat of wildfire.
He tabbed the Upper Monument Creek landscape.
"We are just beginning a modelling project to take that landscape and look at how to fragment the way that fire moves there. Our intention is to manage the landscape so that we might be able to design treatments to put speed bumps in place should a major wildfire occur."
Carin Vadala, NEPA Planner for the Forest Service is the lead for the Upper Monument Creek Project, and said things were just beginning.
"The Front Range Roundtable identified this area as a high priority treatment area to reduce the risk of large severe fires and to increase the function of the watersheds. They have worked to garner funding through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project which will help fund the work done on the forest. The estimated costs are approximately $10 million over a ten-year period or about $1 million a year to implement. The main objective is to create a forest structure that is varied across the landscape and is also resilient to disturbances. The timeline is not completely set because the district is currently working on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which will be released to the public for review later this year. Once the EIS is finalized it is anticipated that projects will continue for about 10 years," Vadala says.
According to a description in Forest Service reports, "The landscape is highly urbanized with the Colorado Springs metropolitan area dominating on the southeast border and the community of Woodland Park on the southwest. Two smaller communities, Monument and Palmer Lake, border the landscape to the northeast. The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) is a significant presence on the landscape’s eastern boundary. The USAFA also maintains the private 655-acre Farish Recreation Area as an inholding within the landscape itself. The northern portion of the UMC landscape includes approximately one-quarter (4,407 acres) of the U.S. Forest Service’s Manitou Experimental Forest and 3,409 acres of designated Colorado Roadless Area. The 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire burned across approximately 11,000 acres at the landscape’s southern tip.
Based on these analyses, it recommended over the next 7-10 years, the USFS use a combination of mechanical, manual and prescribed fire treatments to manage conditions on approximately 18,000 acres within the UMC landscape.Back in July of 1966, the USFS released grand plans of another project, perhaps much larger in scale, but having effects in the same area.
"Rampart Range Road could become one of the top scenic attractions in the country if plans now being developed by Pike National Forest planners become a reality," wrote Dave Richter of the Colorado Springs Free Press at the time.
Thomas Evans, Pike National Forest supervisor then, said the project, called the Rampart Range Recreational Way, is recognized nationally as a priority project. He said then that an impact survey of the affected area was being carried out and would be forwarded to the Denver regional office by Nov. 1 (1966) an after study, sent to the Forest Service chief in Washington and eventually to the Bureau of Budget for Congressional appropriation.
The Rampart Range Recreation Way was tied into development of the Monument Rock Recreation Area on the the site of the abandoned Monument Nursery, and the enlargement and proposed opening to the public of Northfield Reservoir No. 5, (part of the Homestake Project) and construction of Two Forks Reservoir on the South Platte River north of Deckers. At the time, it was noted that not any of the projects had been appropriated.
The Monument Rock area was to have provided all types of recreation facilities, including game areas, an amphitheater, visitor information center, camp and picnic grounds, group picnic concessions, and parking for 560 cars. It was to be built on the old nursery beds, which are divided from one another by rows of mature trees.
Supervisor Evans said that the idea of a highly developed recreation area was new to the Forest Service then, noting that historically it concerned itself with more rustic facilities as part of multiple use of the forest. "The idea of such recreational facilities, with their concentration of people and activities, is more in line with the National Park Service philosophy," he said.
Also in the works, at the time, was plans for a connecting road between Monument and Rampart Range Road, although no grade had been picked.
"The road could use the old Mount Herman Road or follow a road being built by American Telephone and Telegraph for access to a relay station," it was reported.
"The idea is to provide access to the recreational way for visitors to the Monument Rock area without a long trip via Colorado Springs or Sedalia,"
Plans for further development along the Pikes Peak Toll Road were also included in the proposed recreational study, and it was suggested that Rampart Range Road would be paved and a strip of land on both sides would of the road would be left in a natural state. Private land along the road would be bypassed by new construction, so that no commercial development, which would ruin the road as a scenic way, could occur.
The route was to provide a scenic alternative to Interstate 25 for travelers between Denver and Colorado Springs, Evans said back then, and it would be easily accessible to residents between Fort Collins and Pueblo on the fast-growing Front Range.
About 80 percent of the state's population resided on the Front Range at the time.
"The effect of the recreation way on the economy of the region would be large. Some small cities, such as Woodland Park, which is at the end of the upper portion Rampart Range Road, may receive a substantial economic shot in the arm from the project," it was reported in 1966.
"It is possible the recreation way, which will be similar to a larger one already in existence along the crests of the Great Smokey Mountains, may become important to the tourist industry as the Air Force Academy and Pikes Peak are now."
Photo 1: Along Rampart Range Road, mid-December, 2015.
Photo 2: Pikes Peak District Ranger Oscar Martinez.
Rob Carrigan, email@example.com