Perry-Mansfield, public lands continue cleanup after last week’s storm
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Cleanup continues after high winds ravaged portions of Routt County last week, snapping and uprooting trees.
While the damage in Steamboat Springs was immediately evident — particularly in the mountain area — the wind’s destruction across the region is more gradually being discovered.
On trails and roads in the Hanhs Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District, crews have cut at least 1,000 trees since Tuesday and still have a long ways to go, said the district’s recreation staff officer Brendan Kelly.
After getting all the roads opened, crews started transitioning to trails, he said.
On Saturday, a massive volunteer effort cleared many trees from the Buffalo Pass trails, while others continue the slower work cutting trees in the wilderness areas with cross-cut saws.
Old trees and old buildings
The 74-acre campus at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp sustained significant damage, described Executive Director Toni Quick.
In addition to countless aspen trees, Quick estimated losing about 20 old-growth pines, some more than 200 years old. They may be some of the oldest trees in the county, Quick said she’s heard.
“It’s one thing to clean up an aspen — it’s another to clean up a 150-foot tall pine that’s 8 feet across at the base.”
As with tree damage seen across the region, some snapped at the base, and some were uprooted, she described.
Quick thinks that the unusual winds coming from the east and the high speeds played a big factor in the bizarre weather event. Those trees get accustomed to winds coming from a certain direction, she hypothesized, and anchor themselves accordingly.
With about 65 buildings on campus, there was damage to about a dozen structures, Quick said, ranging from minor roof damage to giant pines sitting on top of two buildings.
Quick said they are still working on removal estimates — and she’s heard that moving the massive pines could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. And while insurance should cover the damage to buildings, Quick said they are bracing for some of the cleanup aspects that won’t be covered.
“Nothing collapsed,” she said, “Considering that — we are really fortunate.”
But the storm is undoubtedly an added stress on top of an already difficult year, Quick noted. “Financially, it’s a challenging year.”
For the first in 106 summers, the school was unable to hold its residential programming because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the loss of tuition was a hit, “More devastating, however,” wrote Rob Schwartz, board chair of Perry-Mansfield in a letter, “was the loss of a summer together on campus, creating art with our talented students, faculty and staff.”
And now, the letter continued, “The wind — which raged at over 100 mph — has changed the face of our nationally designated historic campus forever. We not only lost 100 trees, but we lost trees that pre-date Perry-Mansfield by many years. Many of them falling on buildings. One of them falling on the roof of Cabeen — the original homestead cabin on the property. Built in 1880, Cabeen served as Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield’s home on campus, and is one of the oldest structures in Routt County.”
Quick said she watched some of the trees fall on Tuesday, and saw sky appear where there had never been visible sky. The students participating in a special Steamboat Springs School District program didn’t make it on campus Tuesday when a tree blocked the road early in the day — which ended up being a good thing.
The school is still hosting some weddings, and hopes to rent out some of the undamaged cabins during the winter, Quick said.
And Quick is optimistic, and knows they are not alone in facing challenges. For now, they are planning to resume programming next summer, she said. And will adapt if they need to adapt.
Clearing the trails
Across his ranger district, Kelly said it has been like starting over as in the spring, when they cut anywhere from 500 to 1,000 trees that fell over the winter.
“It was such a big wind event over such a broad area. Usually we don’t have to deal with every one of the roads, and every one of the trails,” Kelly said.
And a lot of these are perfectly healthy green trees, he noted, a testament to the strength of the wind.
They will continue working as long as the season allows, he said. “Some of the more remote areas we may not get to until the spring.”
Where trees uprooted near trails, the effort also requires trail reconstruction, he noted. “It’s not just a simple matter of tree-cutting.”
Kelly said the volunteer crews — including from Routt County Riders, Friends of Wilderness and Mountain Trails Axxess — have really stepped up.
“More than ever, community members using their own tools have been out clearing downed trees,” said Laraine Martin, executive director of Routt County Riders. Between the various agencies and the volunteers, “I’m blown away at how quickly we got finished up over the week and weekend,” she said, referring to the trail networks closest to town including Emerald Mountain and Buffalo Pass. She said she isn’t sure what Steamboat Resort trails look like.
Kelly said there is still a lot of work to be done in North Routt, and that they have yet to get up to the Continental Divide area above the ski area. He said all Buffalo Pass trailS are cleared except Soda Mountain.
The damage has been wild to see in its severity and breadth, Martin said.
Martin and Kelly urged bikers, hunters and hikers to use caution — noticing where trees might be leaning against other trees or broken branches hanging down. “Look up at the canopy and be aware,” Martin advised, and be careful when choosing resting or camping spots.
Kelly encouraged people to call the ranger district office covering wherever they plan to venture to find out the latest conditions and closures.
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