Notes from the Field
The Dirt Diaries Blog
Musings from RMFI staff about all things related to public lands and environmental stewardship.
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.
High up on the northeastern flank of Pikes Peak there is a special place of which few people are aware. This place is the headwater area to Severy Creek and it has been recognized by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program for its outstanding biological diversity. Within Severy Creek resides a population of the threatened Colorado greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki stomias), Colorado's state fish, as well as a slew of other sensitive flora and fauna. Part of what makes this area so biologically diverse is the presence of the largest fen on Pikes Peak.
This month we highlight one of the most renowned tools for trail work. Similar to the McLeod (featured in September 2011’s Knowledge Nook) the Pulaski has its roots in wildland firefighting. Ed Pulaski was the inventor of this versatile tool. He combined an ax head with an adze (hoe) to create the Pulaski. The Pulaski is a favorite tool of firefighters for digging firebreaks, which involves removing vegetation and digging trenches. The adze is used for grubbing and digging, and the ax is for chopping and clearing roots.
The father daughter running team of Kalee Ricks and Thomas Ricks are planning to embark on a running challenge this May of truly inspiring nature. They are going to run/hike the first 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 40 days, which means they are moving at least the distance of a marathon each and every day. To add to the prowess of this physical feat these Colorado Springs locals are running for a cause.
RMFI began reconstructing the popular summit trail from Lake Como Basin to Blanca Peak (14,345') in 2011. Our goal has been to mitigate environmental degradation associated with the ample foot traffic on this mountain. This work includes rerouting a trail away from an alpine wetland near crater lake and restoring the many social trails of the area. The work should be completed this year and is part of our Earth Corps program (more details).