By Shawn Chitnis
LARMIER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Volunteers are helping the Colorado State Forest Service planting seedlings to help land from the 2012 High Park Fire recover from burn scars and protect nearby residents from future flooding.
“Trees have the ability as they grow up, to absorb moisture, block debris, and keep the river from flooding further,” said Megan Kocina, the Fort Collins planning coordinator for Team Rubicon. “This type of work is really important because number one we want to restore the forest and we want to keep the ground where it is.”
Members of Team Rubicon work across Colorado to respond to natural disasters like fires and floods and have focused on mitigation work. The organization was established in 2010 after the Haiti earthquake by eight marines and first responders coming back from Afghanistan. The organization has grown to 80,000 volunteers across the country.
“We’re used to functioning in high stressful situations,” said Crista Casas, the northwest associate for Team Rubicon. “We needed people that could respond immediately that had certain discipline and certain skills and also that were looking for a purpose to give back to their communities and continue serving after they took the uniform off.”
The organization is open to all, but a majority of its members are veterans. As a nonprofit focused on disaster response projects from fires, hurricanes, or earthquakes, the group had given a lot of attention to the area impacted by the High Park Fire.
Flooding has been an issue for that community since the fire, in part because of the lack of trees. The opportunity to help in a proactive way attracted the group that had spent so much time reacting to the needs of people recovering form a wildfire.
“This was a unique effort to look at things from a different angle,” said Casas. “We could give that community to not suffer those flash floods as much in the future.”
Wildfire season this summer in Colorado has already burned around 200,000 acres. It is a reminder of the work that will be needed years after the fires are contained. The High Park Fire destroyed 259 homes but six years later, there are still challenges with flooding. Signs of new life are still emerging from the ground.
“Team Rubicon is that perfect bridge that unites those two areas,” said Casas. “Where we have that need in our communities, and then we have these veterans that are still looking back and still looking for a purpose so we unite those two.”
They were part of a three-day operation with 40 volunteers planting 1,200 trees in total. It is an example of the type of work Team Rubicon looks for in service projects. Veterans are used to hands-on assignments and they enjoy the difference they can make by actually working in the ground like volunteering with the Forest Service.
“It’s this amazing feeling of knowing that you’re affecting the future, not just now,” said Kocina.
– Visit CBSDenver.com’s Colorado Wildfire section.
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