Stagecoach property owner Robert Skorkowsky, left, and Oak Creek Fire Protection District Chief Chuck Wisecup toured the Stagecoach neighborhoods in late June to evaluate the logging work that had been done to help mitigate the risk of a wildfire. Most of the work consisted of removing 178 acres of dead trees from along the miles of roads.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Stagecoach property owner Robert Skorkowsky, left, and Oak Creek Fire Protection District Chief Chuck Wisecup toured the Stagecoach neighborhoods in late June to evaluate the logging work that had been done to help mitigate the risk of a wildfire. Most of the work consisted of removing 178 acres of dead trees from along the miles of roads.

Officials hope to finish removing dead trees in Stagecoach neighborhoods

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— A lot of work has been done, but officials in Stagecoach want to finish the logging efforts that were started to protect their homes and lives from wildfire.

The fear of a devastating wildfire remains real in the southeastern Routt County community that was developed around a now defunct ski resort. Houses are thinly dispersed in the heavily wooded subdivisions, and many of the empty lots and roads have become overgrown with vegetation. Regulations make it expensive and difficult to build on many of the lots.

Robert Skorkowsky, who owns several lots, wants to build a home there some day and has a vested interest in the future of the subdivisions. Ensuring the future has meant dealing with the thousands of lodgepole pine trees that were killed by the mountain pine beetle in the past decade. By removing them, Skorkowsky hopes the community will have a chance against a catastrophic wildfire like the recent Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs. It destroyed more than 500 homes making it the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.

“The kind of stuff we’ve been seeing on the Front Range, that could happen here,” said Skorkowsky, who is a member of the Stagecoach Property Owners Association representing 2,000 lots in 16 neighborhoods.

Skorkowsky along with Oak Creek Fire Protection District Chief Chuck Wisecup drove through the subdivisions in late June to survey the extensive logging that had taken place during the previous year.

“I almost forgot how much work we did,” said Skorkowsky, who volunteered his time to help with the logging efforts.

During the tour, Wisecup made notes of the dozens of large slash piles that still need to be burned. Last summer, they burned 436 piles consisting of 500,000 cubic feet of logging waste. Additionally 500 cubic yards of the slash was chipped.

“If we wanted to finish the job, we would have about 1,000 acres of work to do,” Skorkowsky said about the logging efforts.

Last year, $180,000 was spent to clear 178 acres worth of trees lining the miles of dirt, gravel and two-track roads. The homeowners paid for about half of the work and a Colorado State Forest Service grant paid for the rest. Before the logging, Wisecup described how the flammable dead lodgepole pine trees acted like a roadside tinderbox.

“It was like driving through a tunnel,” Wisecup said. “Everything was grown in on both sides.”

Now in most areas, there is an area 140 feet wide along the roads clear of dead trees. It helps create a fire break, but the main goal was to make it safe for firefighters to get in and for residents to get out. Many homes might now stand a chance should a fire strike.

“I’m not going to be comfortable until we log another 400 acres,” Skorkowsky said.

Another concern is the dead trees lingering and ready to fall on nearby power lines.

“That’s the thing we haven’t dealt with yet, and it’s a problem,” Skorkowsky said pointing to a line surrounded by dead trees. “We need to get everything by that line out of the way.”

In 2010, grants again helped pay for more than $120,000 in fire mitigation work. In part, the money paid for work on 177 acres on 183 lots in the Morningside subdivision. Defensible space from wildfire was achieved at nearly all the structures, and having the dead trees removed put many minds at ease.

“It was right up to my house,” Morningside subdivision resident Noah LaPlante said. “I feel pretty safe compared to before. We need more money for fire mitigation.”

Skorkowsky and Wisecup have been working to find the money, but they were disappointed to recently hear they were not awarded a $250,000 grant that would have been matched by the homeowner’s association. The money would have paid for logging the high priority acres of dead lodgepole. They plan to apply for another large grant this summer.

“I’m really hopeful that we’re going to get a grant to continue this work,” Skorkowsky said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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