Thinning planned to reduce Bear Creek Park fire risk

       Fifty to 60 acres of Bear Creek park near the Nature Center and Skyway neighborhoods will be thinned of dead or dying vegetation as part of a city wildfire-control effort over the next two to three years.
       Using specialized chipping equipment and workers with hand tools, the project is expected to start in August.
       The work will not only reduce chances of a disastrous mountain fire spreading to structures but it will result in a better-looking forest, explained Christina Randall, the Wildland Risk section manager for the Colorado Springs Fire Department in a presentation July 8 at the Nature Center.
       “It won't look like a timber sale when we're done,” she said, adding that there will be no prescribed burns. “We will make it look nice.”
       Randall estimated that 80 percent of the gambel oak die-back - much of which occurred during the 2001-2007 drought years - will be removed in the Bear Creek Park project's target areas. The machinery, called a masticator or “bullhog,” turns the dead oak into chips and scatters them into the ground, where they act like mulch to encourage new growth.
       Chiefly affected neighborhoods will be Top of Skyway and those along Gold Camp Road, Randall said.
       Todd Marts, director of the Nature Center, added that hand tools will be used immediately next to the center's trails to ensure the attractive appearance.
       Project funding is coming from a federal emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant with matching funding (some of it in labor) from the Colorado Springs Fire Department and El Paso County Parks. The mitigation at Bear Creek Park is part of an overall effort aimed at reducing fire risk in the “wildland urban interface” (homes close to the mountains), which comprises almost a quarter of the city, Randall said. Work will be done with contracted labor and volunteers,
       The project will be similar to, but separate from the thinning project started three years ago at the Garden of the Gods. That project is funded with donations from the Garden of the Gods Foundation (using proceeds from the Visitor Center) and grants from the U.S. Forest Service.

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