By Dillon Thomas

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – After the largest wildfire in Colorado history charred more than 200,000 acres in 2020, one local organization is now working with the U.S. Forest Service to reclaim and rebuild hundreds of miles of trails in Larimer County. The Cameron Peak Fire burned more than 120 miles worth of trails in Larimer County, based off of a preliminary estimate by the Poudre Wilderness Volunteer Organization.

Cameron Peak Fire on Sept. 26. (credit: Loveland)

The PWV, made up of around 300 volunteers, is now raising money to properly restore the trails systems in, and around, the Cameron Peak Fire burn scar. One of the costliest aspects of restoring the system comes with rebuilding, or repairing, bridges in the mountains.

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“We have 120 miles of trails that have been damaged to come extent. Some bridges burned. A lot of trees down, thousands of trees down,” said Mike Corbin, Chair of PWV.

The organization, which has been around for more than 25 years, is now facing its biggest challenge yet. To make the reclamation process both affordable and more timely, organizers have set up a GoFundMe to cover some of the costs.

Volunteer Jeff Randa said he watched as the fire charred the terrain he has come to love and could only imagine at the time what was being done to the trails.

(credit: CBS)

“To see the orange smoke in the air for days, it was very troublesome to think what it was doing to our trails,” Randa told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas.

Not only were the trails significantly obstructed or ruined, but hundreds of homes were also lost.

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“We have about 20,000 trees to remove that are down,” Corbin said.

There are many bridges that are known to need replacing due to the fire. More could be discovered as better access is made following snowmelt. However, thanks to the pandemic home improvement rush, replacing the bridges is significantly more costly.

“The price of lumber has almost tripled,” Randa said. “If there’s trees on the trails and no bridges, you have no trails.”

(credit: Peter Skiba)

Randa said the PWV was shocked to see more than $24,000 raised in just days of the GoFundMe being activated. He said that was a testament of how much people love the outdoors, especially those from the Denver metro area.

While the pandemic might have increased the demand for lumber, it also increased the interest in exploring the outdoors, underscoring their need to reclaim the trail system as soon as possible. Though that could take three years to complete, Randa and Corbin said starting now is the best way to get there.

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“There are still some beautiful areas out there. And, to allow people to get up there and enjoy them, you have to get up there and make trails safe again for people to hike,” Corbin said.

Dillon Thomas