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Popular open space park in Colorado set to close for fire mitigation in July

Popular open space park in Colorado set to close for fire mitigation in July
Popular open space park in Colorado set to close for fire mitigation in July 03:26

One of the busier and larger Jefferson County Open Space parks, Elk Meadow, which dominates the Evergreen area, will have major closures on July 8. The closures will mean fire mitigation, AKA forest health management, as well as trail improvements and a re-do of one of the main entrances.

"We love running up here. It's so beautiful," Taylor Jackson said. 

  Elk Meadow will close for fire mitigation in the Jefferson County Open Space portion in Evergreen on July 8, 2024.   CBS

However, there are concerns among people about the scale of the work. 

"I hope they don't go overboard," said her husband Jace. "I'm not the only one that feels that maybe they did a little too much over there on 3 Sisters." 

Tree cutting in some areas is a dramatic change.

"It's going to look very different. It's going to be shocking.  And it's going to take a little bit of time for that recovery to happen, and we understand that," said Steve Murdock, who serves as JeffCo Open Space natural resources team lead.

The Evergreen area has been ranked by the U.S. Forest Service "Fireshed Registry" as one of the more concerning areas in the Rocky Mountain West. There are homes and businesses on three sides of the 1600-plus-acre park, especially to the East.  

"The schools, the nursing homes, the drinking water reservoirs, all that stuff that would be negatively impacted by a wildfire," Murdock said. The forest area has filled in over the decades with far more trees per acre than are naturally occurring. "And that's largely due to fire suppression over the last 150 years," Murdock noted.

Not all of the park will be mitigated, but several hundred acres will. It will mean removing over 90% of the smaller trees to allow the larger trees to thrive. The larger ponderosa pines are more fire-resistant due to their thick bark. Their higher branches are typically out of the way of grass fires, which burn faster along the ground. However, the presence of smaller trees can serve as ladders to lead fire up into the tree crowns. With wind, that is the most dangerous, rapidly spreading fire. 

"That's ultimately what we're trying to prevent is a running crown fire," Murdock said.

But clearing and shredding the smaller trees can leave a stark landscape for a time. 

"We estimate all of our projects with our forest management projects, they'll take about three to five years for the grass to start growing back," Murdock said. 

In some areas right now, there are low grasses, which Murdock points out are not higher because of competition for water. Younger trees competing close together have the same issues.

Ultimately the areas should look more like how they appeared years ago when old photographs show Bergen Peak, once known as Mount Independence, with far fewer trees.

Trails at the north end of the park will remain open, including Too Long Trail. Some trails like Elk Ridge JeffCo Open Space will work on first, then do trail maintenance. They hope to get it reopened again by mid-September. 

Most other trails they hope to have open again by the end of the year. The Lewis Ridge entrance as well as the Buchanan Red Center area access will remain open, but the Stagecoach Boulevard entrance and trail nearby will remain closed for about a year as the restroom is moved closer to the road, the parking lot is expanded and a better pedestrian crossing installed at the road.

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