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ColoPressAssn
May 25, 2017 Vol. 16 No. 27
Youth Corps will help protect Manitou from fire danger
Written by Jeanne Davant   

Congratulations Manitou Springs High School 2017 graduates!

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Photos by Casey Bradley Gent

Early next month, Eric Pimentel and his Mile High Youth Corps crew will be hauling picks, shovels, rakes and chainsaws to the Intemann Trail. Their goal: To help protect Manitou Springs from wildfire danger.

Pimentel and his crew of nine will be clearing breaks along the trail that will create space for fire crews to fight wildfires and slow the progress of a raging fire like the 2012 Waldo Canyon blaze.

Pimentel, Manitou Springs Planning Director Wade Burkholder, Manitou Springs Fire Department Capt. Bobby White and Diane Delano, project coordinator for land conservation in the Southern Front Range of Mile High Youth Corps, presented information and fielded questions from about 20 citizens at a fire mitigation meeting Monday.

The city received a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to hire the Youth Corps team to work for four weeks, Burkholder said. Through the Open Space Advisory Committee, the city’s open space fund will finance an additional crew for three weeks that will work simultaneously along the trail.

The work will begin each morning at about 9:30 and continue until 3:30 or 4 p.m., Pimentel said. Chainsaws will not be running the entire time, but residents can expect to hear some noise throughout each day.

“There could potentially be closures of the trail while they’re working,” Burkholder said. Signs with information about closures will be posted.

The work will be carried out according to a carefully planned prescription that all workers will adhere to, White said. The objective is to create what White called shaded fuel breaks, where dense vegetation is thinned so that fire cannot easily move from the ground into the tree canopy.

The prescription sets out specifications, including a maximum distance for cleared areas of 50 feet on each side of the trail, and protection of trees greater than 8 inches in diameter. Larger trees will be limbed up but not removed.

Certain species, such as cedar trees, and culturally modified trees will be recognized and protected. Trees with bird nests or bird activity will also be spared.

Residents were concerned that the work would look like scars on the mountain, but the areas where trees will be cut will be staggered in a mosaic pattern that preserves as much as possible the natural look of the trail.

The crews will focus first on areas of the trail where up to 60 percent of the trees are dead.

“If an opening already exists, we work with the landscape,” Delano said.

In practice, it’s unlikely that the 50-foot limit will be reached, White said.

“It could possibly happen on steep terrain where fire can travel very quickly,” he said. “But if erosion is a factor, we’re not going to go that far.”

“You may not even recognize that work has been done,” White said. “Our objective is having that trail still be comfortable and feel like you’re in the wilderness.”

The work will have other benefits besides fire mitigation, Delano said.

“There will be an increase in biodiversity,” she said. “A year later, you’ll see species you never thought lived there.”

Opening up the canopy also will allow grasses to grow, creating possible locations for pocket parks or other gathering places.

Clean-up is a big part of the job. The crews will bring a wood chipper to the site to dispose of the slash that’s created as they work.

“We like to leave our areas looking as little as possible that we’ve been there,” Delano said.

This year’s project is a continuation of the work the Mile High Youth Corps crews performed on the eastern part of the trail in 2013 and 2014..

The Corps engages more than 200 young people ages 16 to 24 each year to perform community service projects, earn income and learn hands-on skills. It also provides leadership development, career exploration and education for members in 15 Colorado counties.

About 75 percent of the land within Manitou Springs is at moderate to high risk of wildfire, according to the Manitou Springs Hazard Mitigation Plan. The Intemann Trail has been identified as a prime location for fire mitigation.

Another fire mitigation project will begin in late June or early July on the Longs Ranch Unit of the Pikes Peak Watershed, Burkholder said. The project area is located on the south side of U.S. Highway 24 from just west of Manitou Springs to the east side of Cascade.

Managed by Colorado Springs Utilities and the Colorado State Forest Service, the project will consist of thinning of mixed conifer stands and removal of Gambel oak, an extremely hazardous fuel during wildfire.

Because of its high resin content and tendency to grow in large patches, oak burns very aggressively and can carry fire long distances quickly. Herbicide will be applied to the oak after it is cut to prevent resprouting and encourage the growth of less hazardous species such as aspen.

The actual start date of the Longs Ranch project and time required for completion will depend on a schedule set by the contractor for the work, but it is expected to be completed within two to three months.

A hint for those who would like to thank the Youth Corps members for helping to protect Manitou from wildfire: Crew members will not be averse to people bringing them food and water while they work.

“They’ll be out there in the heat,” Delano said.