Hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and others looking to enjoy the Boulder County sunshine are returning to the newly reopened trails in the south side of Heil Valley Ranch, a well-traveled hiking area just north of Boulder.
The area’s Main and Corral trailheads, which had been closed over a year for extensive damage from the October 2020 Cal-Wood Fire, underwent months of reconstruction and repairs before they opened to the public again Saturday.
Several cars were already parked in the Main Trailhead parking lot by 7 a.m. One of the early risers was a first-time visitor who had come to run the trails.
“This is actually my first time here altogether. I’ve been wanting to come here, but then it closed for so long, and I saw that it reopened, so I just popped back out,” said the runner, who introduced herself as Gretchen. “I’ve heard great things.”
But other visitors who used to hike these trails regularly were eager to come back after being unable to hike in the area for so long.
Jennika and Simon O’Brien, who live close by, said this would be their first time hiking the recently reopened trails since before the fire.
“We haven’t been up, and so I’m curious — I think (I heard) these hillsides got pretty bad, so I’m not sure what it is (like) deeper up in there,” said Jennika O’Brien. “We loved it out here before. You could go all the way over to Picture Rock. The wild turkeys out here and the deer were very cool.”
The O’Briens had come to Heil Valley Ranch most recently to help plant trees on hillsides that were devastated by the fire, which consumed over 10,000 acres of land. Boulder County Parks & Open Space accepted volunteers in April to help plant hundreds of ponderosa pine seedlings in the burned area.
Simon O’Brien said the goal was “to recycle, basically, the dead trees for the new ones,” and said the program’s director told him that about 3,000 trees were planted in total.
Dead trees are a major hazard in burn areas — in their weakened state, they are prone to falling, especially in windy conditions. Hazard trees have been removed from the areas around open trails at Heil Valley Ranch, but some dangerous trees remain in closed areas of the park. According to some visitors who had seen the park before and after the fire, the burn damage is still evident.
In an online review of the trail, Barbara Pickard, of Denver, wrote, “Soooooooooooo happy (the area is) back open, yet so heartbroken by the destruction, yet hopeful cuz plants/trees are such fighters. Very windy today so fire getting out of control was at the forefront. Thanx to all this who helped repair this great place! Y’all rock!”
Christine McCloskey, another trail runner who visited Saturday morning, said the area looks “totally different” from before, but not entirely in a bad way: The burned areas have given way to swaths of fresh, green vegetation.
“Obviously the trees are gone, but there’s a very lush undergrowth,” McCloskey said. “It’s just very green, and it doesn’t look anything like any of the other trails around here.”
But even though the area has changed, it still remains popular among outdoorsy types in the area, and many are excited to be able to return to the trails.
“I know the community’s, like, really pumped,” said Jennika O’Brien. “They’re happy to get (the area) back.”