June 8, 2012 marks the 10th anniversary of the Hayman Fire, the largest and most destructive wildfire in Colorado state history. Today I volunteered alongside other Vail Resorts employees as a part of the Vail Resorts Echo three-year restoration partnership with the National Forest Foundation, the US Forest Service, Mile High Youth Corps and the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) to help restore areas of the Hayman burn site.
In the 20 days, from June 8, 2002 when the fire started to when it was contained, 137,000 acres, 600 buildings, including 133 homes, were consumed in the blaze. The fire raged through the Pike National Forest destroying the natural environments of countless species and compromising water sources in the area.
Our project for Hayman Day 2012 was to continue the restoration work near Trail Creek, a tributary to the South Platte River, which has deteriorated significantly due to the fire. The Upper South Platte watershed is the water source for more than 75% of Colorado’s municipal, industrial and agricultural needs making initiatives to restore the area and reduce erosion in an effort to improve the water quality and positively impact the water supply vital for many Colorado residents.
More than 50 VR Echo volunteers were divided into groups to build erosion control structures, plant willows trees, remove invasive weeds and spread native grasses. The goal of today was to restore a number of critical sub-basins within the Hayman Fire that continues to produce an excessive amount of sediment into the Denver Metro water supply.
My task for the day was prepping willow trees to be planted by other volunteers. The process, although less arduous than many of the other projects today, was critical in the end goal of planting and re-vegetating an area of the watershed completely void of plant life after the fire.
Many VR Echo employees have been repeat volunteers for Hayman Day and have seen their progress and restoration work impact the area which was so badly scarred by the fire.
Amy Russo, Breckenridge Hospitality, has volunteered each of the last 3 years. “The first year we came here it was abysmal. There was no green anywhere, there were charred trees, there was no grass, there were no bushes,” said Russo. “This year is a big change. There is grass coming up and bushing coming up, it’s very inspiring and rewarding to see it.”
The Hayman Restoration Partnership has been a cornerstone of our environmental stewardship efforts to protect and restore our forests through VR Echo, our social responsibility and sustainability program. As a Company and Vail Resorts employees, we have an opportunity and commitment to do our part to preserve the iconic landscapes where we work and live.
Vail Resorts employees have volunteered more than 1,500 hours in the past three years and this summer there are four more scheduled volunteer days, which will bring our employees’ volunteer hours to more than 2,000 in the past three years.
Thanks in part to the partnership with Vail Resorts and many others over the past 10 years the Hayman Fire restoration project has become the largest wildfire watershed restoration project of its kind in the country.
These efforts have positively impacted and restored burn areas, inspired other to take action and created a unified vision for a beautiful and healthy Colorado.