We’ve been looking up to that changed mountain now for about a year. Remembering first the dark plume of smoke, the text to my teenage son, to, “Come home, I don’t know what’s happening.” The sirens, the flames and then the Fourth of July destruction. We’ve been looking up there for almost a year now, wondering if things will ever be what they were before those tracer rounds flew.
After the fire was finally out, the hillside turned into a bleak, daily reminder of what was, then it was covered by blankets of white snow in winter and now a dash of bright green this spring to help us believe things will slowly begin to thrive again amid those 12,500 acres of scorched earth and black charred stumps. It’s been a difficult road to keep it all in perspective, especially for Mid-Valley’s kids, many of whom, like my own, live with the memory of evacuating past a fully engulfed mountainside the night of the fire.
So when Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers and the Roaring Fork Conservancy sent out an invitation for a family friendly day of mountain restoration on the Burn Scar atop Basalt Mountain managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, my crew of four signed up without hesitation. We knew there were plenty of scars to heal.
What a sight it was to find we were joining nearly 300 other volunteers on a cool Saturday morning (June 15) at Basalt Middle School. Greeted by RFOV, we were directed toward the Basalt Lions Club Pancake Wagon. They served hundreds of plates of pancakes, scrambled eggs and grilled ham. Coffee was in abundance, and thankfully and mindfully, everything was served in compostable cups, plates, utensils – no plastic to be found.
After some brief words of thanks and praise for our local first responders, we were shuttled in buses and vans past Lake Christine, the shooting range, power substation (which was so close to being damaged that the burned trees within feet around it were visible), and finally to our gathering site before work began. It was so good for our kids to see the path of the fire, to make sense of how it crept up and over into West Basalt and El Jebel. It gave them, and us, some solid understanding of the timeline of events.
The CPW distributed bags of seed to everyone who could carry one – kids of all ages, with their parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors. We were assigned to one of five areas – totaling about 500 acres in all – where we scattered pinches and handfuls of a mixture of native grass and shrub seeds on areas that couldn’t be reached by aerial methods, many of which were reduced to ash. With enough rain this summer season, the seeds will begin to grow, holding the soils together, reducing erosion and flooding impacts, and providing wildlife with food.
Over the hours we were blessed with a mellow sun, cool breezes and views of the Elk Range from a location where many of us had never been before. We walked through new grasses and wildflowers – mariposa lilies, longleaf phlox and silvery lupine – amidst lots of yellow clover, and we pieced together the charred bones of animals that didn’t have the chance to escape the flames last July. We tried to imagine what the world around us was like as we watched it burn from town.
In silence we walked across the rolling terrain, and with each step, each release of new seed, we knew that something, even if just one out of every hundred, would take root.
Many of the volunteers that day hoped aloud that we would be able to return to the area in years to come and watch as the landscape renews. Gathering later that afternoon at the Tipsy Trout, our clothes and hats striped black from charcoaled tree limbs, we looked around to find our neighbors spirits lighter, laughing with friends, the fire becoming a part of our history that we can all find a way to heal.