Notes from the Field
The Dirt Diaries Blog
Musings from RMFI staff about all things related to public lands and environmental stewardship.
My great great great grandfather, Dennis Holmes, had a farm and mill in Holmesville, New York in the mid 19th century. I have his son John’s handwritten account of life on the farm. “We used oxen in most of our farm work. The mowing in early days was done by hand with cythes. I have spread out grass many and many a day after I had turned the cows to pasture.”
In January 2016, RMFI began a new pilot project in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to investigate the role that mature rooted willows can play in helping to restore critical riparian areas within the Waldo Canyon burn scar. In the summer of 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire burned over 18,000 acres west of Colorado Springs, impacting four major watersheds within the region.
With each passing year here at RMFI, we accomplish another 'banner year' in the scope of our reach in environmental stewardship. Here is a re-cap of just a few of our achievements from the 2015 field season:
Mount Muscoco Trail: RMFI spent more than 2 weeks working with the Friends of Cheyenne Canon to construct the new Mount Muscoco Trail. The re-route of what was a user-created trail is now easier to follow and less damaging to the mixed-conifer landscape. Topping out at 8,020 feet, the summit of Muscoco is the highest point on City of Colorado Springs property.
Thursday, December 17, 2015 began as any other day in the RMFI office. We were all buckling down to finalize and submit the last of our final project reports, and excitedly anticipating the holiday break, time with friends and family, too much food, and some well-deserved rest and relaxation. What began as a normal day became anything but by mid-afternoon when an inconspicuous FedEx package was delivered to our office. Inside the FedEx box was a green and red gift box with a perfectly wrapped bow around it. Inside the gift box was a stack of envelopes.
My name is Katherine Guerrero, acting media intern at RMFI for 2015-2016 and junior at Colorado College. Colorado College functions on the block plan, allocating 3 ½ weeks for one topic, an opportunity for students to fully immerse themselves into respective class topics.
Building the “New” Incline Connector Trail in October 2014 was a great project for many, including volunteers hosted by the City of Colorado Springs, Friends of the Peak, Incline Friends, and RMFI. Over the past year many thousands of Manitou Incline hikers have had their chance to wind their way down the connector and have probably noticed recent trail updates as RMFI volunteers and partners, including Mile High Youth Corps and Incline Friends, completed 4 weeks of work in the vicinity this fall.
This month, on October 8th through 10th, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) will celebrate its 50th Anniversary with an alumni reunion full of events and merry-making. The celebration will take place in Lander, Wyoming, the school’s home base. In attendance will be Liz Nichol, RMFI’s Office Manager, who completed her first NOLS course as a student in 1967 and went on to work as an instructor with both NOLS and Outward Bound in the 1960s and '70s.
The RMFI mission consists of three separate, but highly interrelated components – stewardship, education, and research. What are mostly visible to the public are the stewardship and education pieces that are carried out through our volunteer-based, on-the-ground projects located on various public landscapes across southern Colorado. Equally important, however, is the research component being conducted behind the scenes, broadly assessing the effectiveness of restoration treatments and landscape change over time.
If you've been following the local news lately, you've likely heard/read about the greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii stomais) residing in the Bear Creek Watershed as well as reference to what is known as the "NEPA process." To some, these terms are clear as mud, but to others, they raise additional confusion as to what will become of the trout, the watershed, and recreational use/access in the watershed when it's all said and done. If you're on the confused side, hopefully this blog post will help answer any lingering questions you might have.
Forecasters with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are predicting an 80% likelihood that an El Niño will strengthen and persist into the spring of 2016. Some models are predicting this El Niño to be the strongest since 1997-1998.
Shelf Road Recreation Area was first discovered as a climbing area in the mid-1980s. The area, located approximately 10 miles north of Cañon City, Colorado, has since become a world-renowned destination for sport climbing and today boasts more than 850 bolted routes on its extensive spread of quality, vertical limestone cliffs. RMFI first began working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1991 to address recreational impacts from increasing climbing use.
In light of the recent historic rains that walloped portions of Colorado Springs during the month of May and the news that we’d be leading volunteer efforts to help restore damages in Red Rock Canyon Open Space, we thought it would be prudent to discuss the unique history of this wonderful city treasure.
Each year, at about the first week of April, the active RMFI staff team almost doubles in size as our Field Staff members return to Colorado Springs from various winter pursuits (or perhaps, awaken from hibernation). It is an exciting time in the office and in local project areas as we gear-up and orient for upcoming field projects.
“Hot and tired I stop in the shade of an overhanging ledge and take a drink from my canteen. Resting, I listen to the deep dead stillness of the canyon. No wind or breeze, no birds, no running water, no sound of any kind but the stir of my own breathing.” Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire.
During the winter months, our supporters often ask us what we’re up to. When wet weather precludes us from working on trail and restoration projects (it often does more harm than good), we stay just as busy working to further RMFI’s mission. Off-season activities include writing grant proposals to fund future work and writing final reports to inform our funders of the work accomplished during the previous field season.
What has RMFI been up to this summer? We’re glad you asked. For the past 12 years, a portion of RMFI's summer plans include donning our professorial hats to run a college course, called Earth Corps. Earth Corps is a for-credit field studies course where 10 undergraduate college students from universities across the country descend on the Colorado backcountry to complete critical trail and restoration projects in exchange for college credit…
This year as RMFI begins gearing up for our annual Volunteer Vacation, we take a look back at the rich history of this national phenomenon which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2014. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Bill Ruskin, the man behind the first trail stewardship project that would evolve into the ongoing tradition of Volunteer Vacation. The ball got rolling on outdoor stewardship in 1972 when Congress passed a bill to give members of the public interested in environmental preservation the opportunity to volunteer on USDA Forest Service lands.
RMFI is currently focusing on the North Gateway corridor within the Central Zone of Garden of the Gods. This area sees the majority of the Park's use as visitors park at the Main Lot, walk down the sidewalk alongside North Gateway Rock, and then continue between North and South Gateway. This corridor has seen a lot of use over the years, resulting in areas with significant vegetation loss. In partnership with the City of Colorado Springs Parks, RMFI and our steadfast volunteers restored a significantly disturbed area over the past month.
We’ve all noticed; trails throughout the region have been closed due to fires and flooding for more than a year now. But what does this really mean, the fire’s out and the flooding has dissipated, so why all the continued closures? Each land management agency has their own specific reasons for the closures impacting our region and they should be contacted directly if you have specific questions. However, there are a multitude of ecological reasons trails and open areas should remain closed following disturbances, especially after a wildfire. Read below to learn more!
Barr Trail is one of the most beloved trails in our region. It is the primary summit route, by foot, to the top of Pikes Peak, elevation 14,115. The adjacent Incline route, legalized for public access in 2013, has made the lower 3-mile portion of Barr Trail extremely popular as users ascend the Incline and descend Barr Trail. The unstable nature of the soils in this region and significant visitor usage on the Barr Trail make management and sustainability of this trail challenging. Soils along the Barr Trail consist of decomposed granite derived from Pikes Peak Granite.
We are often asked about planting trees in the Waldo Canyon Burn Scar. The US Forest Service has strict guidelines about tree planting. Read a one-page overview here: Reforestation in the Waldo Canyon Burn Area, US Forest Service
Put on your hydrology hats, folks, we’re talking WARSSS! Last week, Dave Rosgen, Ph.D., renowned hydrologist and principal of Wildland Hydrology, presented the highly anticipated results of the WARSSS assessment for the Waldo Canyon Burn Area.
Contrary to how it sometimes looks, restoration is a bit more than throwing seeds on the ground. A lot of thought and planning go into a site before the work is completed to ensure successful restoration. Our staff asks questions like when is the best time to seed, what type of seed should be used at a site, what type of prep work should be done at the site before the seed is sown, and will the seed stay in place?
It’s that time of year again; Christmas music is playing in the stores, the lights are up around town, and with white stuff on the ground and with cold morning temps, it finally feels like winter. On December 4th, the Capitol Christmas tree was lit in Washington D.C., a tree that originated from Colorado. The small town of Meeker, CO had the honor this year of providing the tree for the Capitol. The tree comes from the Blanco Ranger District of the White River National Forest on the Western Slope.
Wait… why would we ever close and restore a campsite?! Before you go on thinking we’re anti-camping fanatics, hear us out! For over 15 field seasons RMFI has been working in South Colony Lakes Basin, a beautiful alpine cirque basin and designated Wilderness Area home to Humboldt Peak, Crestone Needle, and Crestone Peak. We spent over a decade building a sustainable trail infrastructure within the basin and to the summits of its peaks, and are now focusing on creating a sustainable camping infrastructure.
In June 2002, the Hayman Fire burned over 130,000 acres and was the largest forest fire in Colorado history. Through a partnership with the US Forest Service, National Forest Foundation and the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, RMFI staff and two dedicated, hardworking crews have been building erosion control structures in ephemeral draws on the site of the Hayman Burn, near West Creek, Colorado.