WERFAN COUNTY, Colorado (KRDO) — Access to several popular campgrounds, lakes and trails has been restricted or closed for the season as high winds downed a significant number of trees this spring.
The timing for this situation is not good for the Kuchara area on the southwestern side of the county, where the local economy relies heavily on summer tourism.
Stephen Sanchez of the US Forest Service said trees were blown down on roads and paths in a 12-mile stretch of woodland and private property; another USFS spokesman, Alex Radney, said the impact could be as large as 1,000 square miles.
The danger, he said, is that many other trees have collided with each other and could fall at any moment.
“That’s why we restrict access,” he said. “Tourists may not be aware that a tree may fall on them or on their cars while they are vacationing or traveling.”
Sanchez said the Forest Service is still trying to determine the extent of the problem before coming up with a plan to remove as many trees as quickly as possible, and finding the money to pay for it.
“I have not seen such a degree of destruction (of a tree) in all the 11 years that I have been here,” he said. “We won’t be able to remove them all. We’ll have to work on this with the state and the county.”
Sanchez said most of the fallen trees are spruces with shallow root systems.
“Spruce forests protect each other from the wind,” he explained. “And you never know for sure which way the strongest flavors are blowing until they actually show up. So when you get string winds, like we have, it becomes a kind of domino effect – or it’s like taking half the grudge off. your football team. It becomes more vulnerable and over time you end up losing the forest.”
Sanchez said the thousands of downed trees are also increasing the risk of wildfires in the area east of the June 2018 Spring Creek fire, which destroyed about 140 homes.
“We also need to figure out what to do with these trees and if there is a market for them,” he added. “Many of them were already infested with beetles.”
Sanchez said the Forest Service became aware of the situation weeks ago when it was reopening roads and trails for the season and inspecting trees for beetle infestations.
“We have also received reports from search and rescue teams that a tree has been heavily downed in the area,” he said.
The situation forced the Blue Lake and Bear Lake campgrounds to close for the rest of the year; but Blue Lake is still accessible by car.
According to a recent Facebook post, at least 50 fallen trees have been removed from one trail – just one of many trails in the area.