Black Forest Burn Scar

RMFI is partnering with El Paso County Parks to rehabilitate the Black Forest Regional Park and the Pineries Open Space burned by the Black Forest Fire in 2013.
Volunteers help move downed hazard trees in the Pineries Open Space, site of a future public-use trail corridor.

BACKGROUND

The Black Forest Fire burned 14,280 acres in Black Forest, Colorado in June 2013. Surpassing the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012, the Black Forest Fire is now the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history. The fire was fully contained June 20th, 2013 with the loss of 486 homes and 2 lives. Though the majority of the land burned was private, approximately 1,200 acres of El Paso County Parks land were affected. Since 2013, RMFI has been working in partnership with El Paso County to rehabilitate burned landscapes within the Black Forest Regional Park and the Pineries Open Space.

The Black Forest Regional Park (BFRP) encompasses 385 acres of land within the Black Forest area of El Paso County, Colorado. The BFRP is characterized by ponderosa pine forests with dominant understory species including kinnikinnick, squaw current, mountain mahogany, blue grama, western wheatgrass, needle and thread, and mountain muhly. A Master Plan for the area completed in 2011 suggests that forest density was higher than ever before and that threat of wildfire was a large concern. Approximately two-thirds of the BFRP were impacted by the Black Forest Fire. Slopes in the Park average 6-12% though slopes of 30% can be found near the Palmer Divide, a major ridgeline running through the north end of the Park. Soils in the Park are characterized by a gravelly texture that creates difficulties in establishing vegetation once disturbed. Most soils in the Park were classified as a low to moderate hazard for erosion pre-fire; however, the loss of vegetation and the steepness of the slopes in the northern region of the Park are causing large erosional and sediment depositional issues. The infrastructure within the park and south of the park (Shoup Rd, Big Pine Estates, and Merit Acres) are currently at risk from flooding and debris flows originating from the BFRP.

The Pineries Open Space is approximately 1,067 acres in size and is located northeast of the intersection of Vollmer Road and Shoup Road in El Paso County, Colorado. The Pineries Open Space is the largest open space property under County ownership; all but approximately 30 acres of the area is under a conservation easement held by the Palmer Land Trust. The area contains populations of rare and unique plants as well as a mature Ponderosa Pine forest that is classified as old growth. A master plan for the park was developed in 2010 before the Black Forest Fire occurred. Though not yet open to the public, the Pineries Open Space will contain a Tier 1 multi-use trail that will allow public access while still preserving the area’s scenic, wildlife, and ecological values. The Black Forest Fire impacted approximately 90.72% (967.99 acres) of the Pineries Open Space with the northern end of the park being characterized as moderately to severely burned.

WORK OBJECTIVES 

RMFI's primary project goal is to enhance sustainable watershed function in the burn scar by stabilizing soils and promoting vegetation regrowth as well as engaging the public in active post-fire burn restoration through community volunteer workdays.

Our specific project objectives are to:

  • Protect infrastructure within and around the Black Forest Regional Park and the Pineries Open Space
  • Reduce soil loss and subsequent sediment loading of downstream water resources, as well as minimize debris flows
  • Increase native vegetation cover within the burn scar
  • Promote re-opening of public access to recreation areas within the burn scar where deemed safe and appropriate by land management agencies
  • Engage the community in the hands-on restoration of the burn scar
  • Engage youth in environmental stewardship opportunities to encourage early bonding with natural areas. 

Burn area restoration focuses on two key components—slope stabilization and revegetation. The intense heat created by wildfires has the potential to reduce soil structure stability by destroying root assemblages. It then takes very little erosional force to begin transporting sediment downstream. Vegetation regrowth is the most efficient way to stabilize soils. Stabilizing slopes with on-site material and seeding with native species minimizes soil erosion and promotes quicker vegetation recovery. Rehabilitation of the burn will take many years and will require collaboration between many different stakeholders. Community volunteers will play a critical role in completing much of the on-the-ground hand crew work such as slope stabilization and seeding. 

2018 WORK FOCUS

  • Complete restoration and stabilization work in Black Forest Regional Park.

PROJECT PARTNERS AND FUNDERS

  • Black Forest Together
  • Black Forest Trails Association
  • Boeing
  • El Paso County
  • El Paso County Regional Watershed Collaborative Members
  • FedEx
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • Pikes Peak Community Foundation