Uncertainty remains for the Waldo Canyon Trail west of Colorado Springs 10 years after devastating and deadly fire

What the Pike National Forest looks like 10 years after the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire -- and why the trail at the center of the disaster remains closed.
Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 7:16 PM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - It’s been exactly 10 years since an event that changed our community. The Waldo Canyon Fire.

The blaze was first reported on June 23, 2012 west of Colorado Springs. Hundreds of homes were destroyed. More than 18,000 acres were burned. 11 News Anchor Adam Atchison is taking us into the Pike National Forest for a look at how things have changed in a decade and why the trail at the center of an investigation remains closed. You can watch his piece at the top of this article.

The images are hard to forget. The towering smoke and flames. A force of nature that burned defiantly for days. A total of 347 homes destroyed in a matter of hours and two lives taken. While we still count the losses from the Waldo Canyon Fire a decade later, a major piece of of land once torn apart is slowly and delicately waking up.

There are encouraging signs in the national forest. Little trees planted by crews sprouting up across the landscape.

“My opinion of this is that it looks pretty good,” District Ranger for the Pike National Forest Carl Bauer explained as he stood where the fire burned. “It’s grown up!”

Bauer was among the crew who helped fight the fire ten years ago. As the new district ranger for the forest, he says an estimated 70,000 trees have been replanted. The forest land destroyed by flames is at a turning point.

“It takes almost 10 years for the soils to recover and become more absorbent to water again,” Bauer added. “That’s the time frame that we’re at right now.”

The forest is open to the public, just not overnight. The one area that remains completely closed, is the Waldo Canyon Trail itself. Investigators believe the fire began within three miles of that once-popular route. Today, the parking lot along Highway 24 is barricaded off due to safety concerns. The access point is on private property, and Bauer says there are decisions to make.

“How we’re going to access it,” Bauer questioned. “How people are going to be able to use it? That sort of thing.”

There’s also dead, standing snags along the trail and the trail itself is non-existent in some places, those pose a risk to the public.

11 News asked Bauer if there’s a timeline for restoring the trail and figuring out access.

“I don’t have a timeline on that,” Bauer responded.

As the forest recovers, Bauer’s message to the public is two-fold. Be careful with campfires. He says fireworks in the national forest are illegal and vehicles need to stay on designated roads. But he’s also asking for something even more simple. For a community that’s made such significant strides recovering from a decade old disaster. To keep waiting, for the time it takes to breathe new life. Through the ashes.

“Nature doesn’t turn around on a dime,” Bauer stated. “Have patience. Mother nature will reclaim its own and we’ll try to help it along as we can.”

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