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Forest lands closed during 416 Fire to reopen Wednesday

Lingering dangers pose risk to hikers, mountain bikers
The Lower Hermosa Creek Trail has been closed since the 416 Fire broke out in June 2018. The trail received varying degrees of damage from the fire, including erosion, fallen trees and flooding on the burn area. The Hermosa Creek area will reopen to the public Wednesday.

Hermosa Creek within the 416 Fire burn scar will reopen to the public Wednesday.

Denise Alonzo, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service’s San Juan National Forest, sent a news release Tuesday that said “last year’s fire-related closures have expired.”

Lower Hermosa Creek trails have been closed since June 2018 when the 416 Fire broke out. The blaze went on to burn an estimated 54,000 acres, mostly on Forest Service lands within the Hermosa Creek watershed.

The Durango Herald reached out to several Forest Service employees Tuesday: Alonzo; San Juan National Forest Supervisor Kara Chadwick; Beth Anderson, the Forest Service’s acting Columbine District ranger; Jed Botsford, recreation program lead for the Columbine District; and Mark Lambert, engineering and minerals staff officer. None returned calls seeking comment.

Matt Janowiak, forest administrative officer for the Columbine District, directed questions about the reopening to Anderson and Botsford. Janowiak did say the Forest Service opened Missionary Ridge not long after the fire in 2002.

“We knew people were going to go in anyway,” he said. “We just ask people to be extra diligent.”

The U.S. Forest Service announced Tuesday that Hermosa Creek within the 416 Fire burn area will be open to the public starting Wednesday. The area has been closed since the fire broke out June 2018.

In previous interviews, Forest Service officials proposed a number of treatment actions to help rehabilitate areas of the 416 Fire burn scar, as concerns of tree-fall, trail erosion and other hazards now exist in the burn area.

Botsford in November said he was “amazed” that most of the trails in the fire’s burn scar remained intact. However, he also said tree-fall was a major concern during an initial assessment.

The proposed treatment options were part of a “Burned Area Emergency Response” report, but because no one with the Forest Service returned calls for comment, it’s unclear where that process is.

It’s also unclear what condition the trails are in as spring runoff kicks into full gear.

Mary Monroe Brown, director of Trails 2000, said the trail advocacy group intends to send ambassadors to the Hermosa Creek trailhead to warn would-be hikers and mountain bikers of the potential dangers.

She, too, said the only information the public has is from an assessment last fall that noted downed trees, trail erosion and some bench-cut on the trail. The bridge at Dutch Creek is also knocked out, she said.

“But that’s just what we know from the assessment last fall,” she said. “We don’t have updated information as to what the trail conditions will look like after this heavy winter.”

In all likelihood, the trails in Hermosa Creek remain covered in snow. After snowmelt, trails could be further damaged.

“There’s going to be a lot of hazardous conditions, so people are definitely entering at their own risk,” Monroe Brown said.

Trails 2000 hopes to start rehabbing trails in mid- to late June. Monroe expects it will take two to four years to get trails back into good condition.

Before the 416 Fire, the Hermosa Creek Trail was one of the iconic trails in Southwest Colorado, with beautiful terrain and good accessibility, Monroe Brown said. In 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection legislation, protecting more than 100,000 acres.

Now, after the fire, it will be a new normal.

“It will be definitely a different experience at this time until there’s some rehab, and that’s going to take some time,” Monroe Brown said.

The Forest Service has not released the official cause of the 416 Fire, which broke out June 1, 2018.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

Jun 1, 2019
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May 18, 2019
La Plata County revisits fire restriction policies in wake of 416 Fire
Apr 24, 2019
Once a source of fresh water, Hermosa Creek now threatens Animas River
Mar 26, 2019
Rapid snow melt could intensify 416 Fire runoff
Mar 19, 2019
416 Fire investigation taking ‘longer than expected,’ Forest Service says


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