Dillon ranger outlines fire damage to trails at foot of Buffalo Mountain (with podcast)
Though the Dillon Ranger District announced on Wednesday that the Buffalo Mountain Fire is now 100 percent contained, the small system of trails in and around the 81-acre burn area remain closed.
And one trail in particular, the Pasque trail, may remain closed for several months, if not longer.
That’s because the U.S. Forest Service’s Dillon Ranger District is continuing to monitor potential danger to hikers and bikers, including winds knocking down fire-weakened trees, ash and debris-filled stump holes and smoldering hot spots.
Dillon District ranger Bill Jackson said on Wednesday morning that these dangers persist in the area of the Buffalo Cabin, Royal Buffalo and Pasque trails, a system of smaller, interconnecting trails in the area of the Wildernest and Mesa Cortina neighborhoods.
“If we open the trails,” Jackson said, “we don’t want people wandering off into the burn area because they have trail-access. Right now it’s easier to keep that whole bubble closed so that there isn’t that access and people aren’t getting in the burn area, which we’ve already seen.”
The Buffalo Cabin Trail specifically is the main hiking artery leading from the Buffalo Mountain trailhead near the top of the Wildernest neighborhood up to the iconic 12,777-foot summit of Buffalo Mountain.
Speaking Wednesday morning, Jackson said both the Buffalo Cabin and Royal Buffalo trails are in much better shape and are much closer to re-opening to the public than the Pasque Trail.
“I would like to see the Buffalo Cabin Trail open within the next couple of weeks,” Jackson said. “And if it’s sooner than that, then all the better.”
LISTEN: Bill Jackson, Cindy Ebbert and Sam Massman of the U.S Forest Service’s Dillon Ranger District discuss the Buffalo Mountain Fire’s short- and long-term effects on the popular trail system at the foot of the 12,777-foot peak
Jackson credited those relatively better trail conditions on the Buffalo Cabin trail to a wildland firefighting crew out of California that mitigated dozens of hazardous fire-weakened trees before they cycled out of the burn zone Wednesday morning.
“The Hotshots felt comfortable in there doing some work, but they didn’t feel as good in this Pasque trail,” he said. “They said it was too thick.”
Jackson elaborated that the Royal Buffalo and Buffalo Cabin trails almost certainly will open sooner than the Pasque trail because both trails skirt the perimeter of the 81-acre burn area. In comparison the Pasque trail — one popular among neighboring residents — cuts much through the heart of the burn area.
“It’s burned forest through there,” Jackson said of the Pasque trail. “Some trees have come down already. We have some fire-weakened trees that follow the trail. It’s not a good place where you’d want to go hiking. It’s ashy so your boots would get filthy, your clothes would get filthy just hiking through there.”
Jackson also added that the forest service attempted to use a Bobcat-type machine that had a tree-sheering attachment to help clear the dense damage to the Pasque trail. Though the operator was able to cut some trees, Jackson described the use of the machine as leaving the trail in more of a mess than the progress the machine provided.
“Because of the way they had to pivot on the trail,” Jackson said. “It was churning it up pretty well to the point where we are like, ‘You know what? Let’s stop this while we are ahead. We don’t want to ruin the same trail we are trying to open.”
So “Plan B” for the Pasque trail is to see how upcoming windy days or wind-storms affect the fire-weakened trees over a timeline that may extend into next winter.
“It could be weeks or months,” Jackson said, “just because there is still a lot of heat in the interior.”
Jackson added that the four-way junction where the Buffalo Cabin trail, the Royal Buffalo trail, the Buffalo-Willow Connect trail and the Buffalo Mountain trail meet at the foot of the steep 3,011-foot ascent to the top of Buffalo Mountain also remains closed.
As of Wednesday morning, the Forest Service had an eight-person fire engine crew from Boise, Idaho providing “severity control” on the burn area.
As for when the Buffalo Cabin and Royal Buffalo trails open, whether that’s days or weeks, the forest service emphasizes that potential dangers will remain off-trail.
“Don’t go exploring, or whatever,” Jackson said. “Selfie in the burn area — whatever. As long as people stay on the trail they won’t be exposed to that danger. And I think 99 percent of people will stick to it.”
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