High Park Fire: The Rebirth of Young Gulch

The High Park Fire ravaged Young Gulch, a side gulch of Poudre Canyon. The burn just gets more severe the deeper into the gulch you hike. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

The High Park Fire burned more than 87,000 acres west of Fort Collins, and among the burned homes, wrecked lives, mudslides and other unfortunate things associated with the fire, one thing that can be felt by everybody is the temporary loss of some of our most popular national forest trails near Fort Collins.

Greyrock, the region’s most popular national forest hiking trail, burned in the Hewlett Fire in May, so it was closed weeks before the High Park Fire ignited. Young Gulch comes in second in the popularity contest. It was a great mountain biking trail and also known for being one of the lushest side canyons of the Poudre.

I took a post-High Park Fire tour of Young Gulch today with the Forest Service. The trail remains closed to the public, and will likely remain so for a year. This will give you an idea of how a fire burns through a canyon in the West. This trail will be closed for a short time, compared to trails in other burn areas across the West. Some trails were closed for upwards of eight years after the Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002 near Durango.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Young Gulch was incinerated in the High Park Fire, except that the trees right along the trail, particularly near the trailhead in Poudre Canyon are still green. In places, if you focus your eyes just on the trail and the vegetation along its edges, you’d never know a massive wildfire burned through the area. But the slopes above the trail are blackened, and the fire only burned more intense in the upper reaches of the gulch. The stream at the bottom of the gulch is in places completely full of mud, ash, charcoal and debris. The free-flowing stream replete with trout-pack pools is simply no more.

But just in the last couple of weeks, the green grass has returned, a profusion of flora has emerged from the ashes and wildflowers are everywhere. We saw fresh bear scat on the trail while we were hiking today, and a plethora of signs of deer and bear tracks in the mud-clogged stream. The canyon is experiencing a rebirth of sorts. But, you can’t go here to see it. Not yet.

Today’s tour was quick, and I was busy taking notes, so there was very little time for photography. But here’s a look at what one of Northern Colorado’s most popular trails looks like after Colorado’s second-biggest wildfire scorched it:

In many places, the formerly free-flowing creek is clogged with silt and ash. This is within a tenth of a mile of the trailhead. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

Another view of the creek about a half mile or so up Young Gulch. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

In addition to many, many poison ivy plants and tiny willows sprouting along the Young Gulch trail, these puffball mushrooms are growing to be an astounding 10 inches or so across. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

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2 thoughts on “High Park Fire: The Rebirth of Young Gulch

  1. thanks for taking us on your hike into closed areas. It’s time for other trails to grow in popularity. Let’s give Young Gulch and Greyrock time to recover.

  2. It is frustrating to see what took fifty, hundred, or more years for nature to grow seemingly destroyed in minutes. It is also quite exciting to see the rebirth of growth, followed by wildlife grazing…just takes patience and appreciation. The Black Hills have had a tough fire season this year, and the positive viewpoint you present here is refreshing and encouraging.

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