The Hayman Fire Reclamation
The long road to recovery
Story and photos by Debi Boucher
Few who lived on the Front Range of Colorado in the summer of 2002 have forgotten the fear, anger and heartbreak they felt over the Hayman Fire. In its stead is a surreal wasteland—138,000 acres of blackened tree trunks, all that’s left of what had been a beautiful ponderosa pine forest. And damage to the environment didn’t end when the fire died. Heavy rains brought mudslides, flooding and the threat of rockslides and falling trees.
I traveled along Teller County Road 11 heading home to Woodland Park on that notorious day, June 2, 2002, and saw billowing grey smoke in the distance. It didn’t occur to me that in just a few days, the fire would be only four miles from my home and not even remotely under control.
It was estimated in April 2010 that the fire’s direct and indirect costs totaled $207 million, only 20 percent of it on fire suppression. Scientists estimate it will be some 500-600 years before the forest returns to its pre-fire state.
Reforestation efforts began immediately and continue now, nine years later. Workers collect pine and Douglas fir seeds from the area and grow them in a controlled environment for a year before replanting them in the forest. Hundreds of individuals from organizations such as the Boy Scouts and the Arbor Day and National Forest Foundations have planted thousands of seedlings. Artisans use salvaged timber for craft work, and builders use it for flooring. Conservationists use trees not suitable for such uses as barriers for erosion control.
Shell Oil Corp. raised much-needed funds, and Coleman Natural Foods sponsored the planting of 300,000 seedlings. More than 100 Vail Resort employees worked together with the U.S. Forest Service and Rocky Mountain Field Institute to assist with seeding, matting, and re-contouring slopes. Future cooperative plans include reducing sediment into our water supply, rebuilding 18 miles of recreational trails, and replanting 1,700 acres of trees.
The fish population is flourishing and wildlife returning. Big horn sheep forage in areas they didn’t visit before.
I have visited the burn area many times since 2002. I have seen the wildflowers blooming, and the aspen flourishing. Some are 15-20 feet tall now. For years I only saw devastation, but lately, I see the beauty to be found amid the scorched remains standing sentinel along the hills, ridges and valleys. The fire permanently changed the landscape, but time has changed how I view what remains in its stead.
It is worthwhile to take a drive or hike through the Hayman Fire affected portions of the Pike National Forest. The old saying, “you can’t see the forest for the trees” no longer rings true. You will now be able to see the hills as they roll across the landscape, vistas, views and rock outcroppings you may never have known existed. You may see big horn sheep where you’ve never seen them before. You will see the progress of the reclamation efforts, those made by man, and those made by nature as she works to heal the wounds of one of Colorado’s most devastating wildfires. And if you look with your eyes open, you will see beauty. Perhaps it’s not our typical definition of beauty, but beauty all the same.
Written for AAA Encompass Magazine. Copyrighted material. May not be reproduced in whole or in part without express written consent from the author.