National Forest Foundation

Hayman Restoration Partnership on the Pike National Forest

Hayman Restoration Partnership on the Pike National Forest

Following the devastating Hayman Fire of 2002, the NFF worked with corporations, organizations and the Forest Service to repair the watershed of Trail Creek, a tributary to the Upper South Platte River, and an important source of water for Denver and other Front Range communities.

In June of 2002, the perfect conditions for a devastating fire converged in the forests near Denver, Colorado. A five-year period of below-normal precipitation and unseasonably dry air; absence of fire in the area during the previous 100 years; high, gusty winds; low precipitation; and human carelessness collided to create one of the state’s largest fires.

For 20 days, the Hayman Fire raged through the Pike National Forest, as well as state, county and private lands, burning a total of 137,760 acres. In its wake, the fire consumed 600 structures, jeopardized habitat for numerous species, and severely impacted the water source for more than 75 percent of Colorado's 4.3 million residents.

Following the fire, early tree planting and grass seeding efforts helped the most severely affected areas. However, restoration needs remained significant for several drainages within the South Platte River watershed. The Trail Creek watershed, a critical sub-watershed of the Upper South Platte River, represented the highest priority for addressing sediment issues.

While the problems facing Trail Creek and its watershed were clear, the solutions needed to restore them were not. Working collaboratively with the Forest Service and local partners, the NFF developed specific goals for the restoration of the Trail Creek watershed and surrounding forests and then worked with a diverse group of partners and supporters to accomplish these mutually-developed goals.

Work across the project area included a variety of activities designed to restore degraded perennial streams and ephemeral stream channels, improve aquatic and terrestrial habitats, and reduce erosion and downstream sediment flow. Hand crews and volunteers worked across the project area, seeding and planting native vegetation, repairing ephemeral headcuts, conducting trail and road work, building fences, reducing fuel loads, and treating invasive species. At 17 individual sites within the Hayman burn scar, we used heavy equipment to conduct more intensive stream restoration and sediment control activities.

In addition to repairing the landscape, we strived to build local capacity and a lasting constituency of supporters. By providing grants to local conservation organizations and local contractors, we invested in the local community, built the skills and knowledge of local groups, and supported the regional economy.

The Trail Creek restoration site has served as a model for student hydrologists and for government agencies and water providers involved with post-fire restoration work across the West. In fact, partner capacity and lessons learned from this project were recently employed as land managers worked to restore the landscape damaged by the nearby Waldo Canyon and West Fork Fires. This increased knowledge and capacity will be more and more important as Colorado’s steep landscapes continue to burn in unnaturally severe wildfires.