On a recent September day, two classes in the Career Pathways Wildlife, Forestry, and Natural Resources Program at Front Range Community College’s Larimer Campus gathered to participate in a soil restoration lab in Rist Canyon west of Fort Collins, an area burned this summer in the High Park Fire.
Students Observed Erosion’s Effect on Water Quality.
The trip was more special because the students were helping restore the property of one of their classmates, Wade Mason, whose home was destroyed by the fire. Students made connections to the erosion that is occurring within the watershed and the impacts on the quality of water in the Poudre River. In addition, they worked hard to remove and stack dead timber that was partly consumed during the fire.
The collective efforts of the students provided much-needed manpower and saved countless hours of labor Wade and his family would have spent removing the same debris on their own, while allowing students to get practical experience in a restoration project. This dynamic activity was coordinated by instructor Heather Dannahower, who strives to take lessons learned in the classroom and apply them in hands-on activities in the field.
A Personal Account of High Park Fire’s Aftermath.
Wade wasn’t around to witness the destruction of the fire, but he has become all too familiar with the aftermath.
When the fire broke out Wade was visiting family in Illinois and learned from a phone call that the family home he helped build had been destroyed. After the initial shock, Wade’s thoughts turned to his family. Much like the flames of the fire that seared and forever altered the mountainside that he grew up on, Wade’s memory was burned by the white-hot reality that he was homeless, hundreds of miles from home, and unable to do anything for his family or community.
The reality of this event and the severity of the destruction shook all of northern Colorado. However, Wade has been able to maintain perspective and is thankful that his family and neighbors escaped unharmed.
Anxiously Awaiting Return to Friends and Family.
Rather than return to a smoldering Colorado and a home that was no longer there, Wade elected to remain in Illinois for the summer and work in construction until life was more settled back home. While the work occupied his time, the thoughts of home and the scarred canyon occupied his mind. Long summer days in the sultry Midwest moved at a snail’s pace as Wade anxiously awaited the moment when he could return home to his family, friends, and community that he so dearly loves.
Finally, on Aug. 2, Wade made the trek back to Colorado and the charred hillside that was once his home.
Recognizable but not Familiar.
When he stepped onto his family’s property for the first time in more than months Wade found a mountainside that was recognizable, but not at all familiar. Where the home once stood was an empty lot. Pine trees that once dominated the landscape looked like burnt matchsticks, and massive boulders resembled charred briquettes. The change to the landscape was dramatic, but new life is emerging as native grasses and fauna are returning to the area.
Radiating Optimism and Determination.
Despite enduring a natural disaster that cost them their home, Wade and his family are committed to this area and its community and are rebuilding in the same spot. Some days are more difficult than others and it has been a bit of annoyance replacing possessions that the fire stole, but Wade radiates an optimism and determination that is infectious. It is obvious that the flames from the High Park fire merely served to temper his resolve.
Community and Classmate Support.
In the aftermath of the fire, Wade and his family have found the community to be incredibly supportive, especially his fellow students at FRCC.
Wade is a high achiever and is currently a second year student in Career Pathways. The knowledge gained about fire ecology during class allowed Wade to analyze and diagnose how the fire spread and ultimately consumed the hillside where his family’s home resided.
‘Move Forward and Make the Best of It.’
It is obvious to anyone who meets Wade that this young man possesses the confidence, wisdom, and resolve that are beyond his years. His passion for the outdoors and wildlife is obvious, and he has aspirations of one day working for the Colorado Division of Wildlife as a game warden.
When asked what he has learned about life after the fire, Wade offered this response, ‘No matter what life throws at you, you must move forward and make the best of it.’ One look at the Masons’ property, and it is easy to discern that Wade is doing just that.