A 'rural-esque' community defined by timber

By Stephanie Earls Updated: September 20, 2017 at 1:17 pm • Published: September 20, 2017 0
photo - Bill Mantia, a volunteer project manager for Black Forest Together, trims the limbs after falling a burned tree Tuesday, May 26, 2015, as he and other volunteers build log erosion barriers for a Black Forest homeowner to slow down the flooding of Kettle Creek. Mantia lost his home and 20 acres of trees in the 2013 fire. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Bill Mantia, a volunteer project manager for Black Forest Together, trims the limbs after falling a burned tree Tuesday, May 26, 2015, as he and other volunteers build log erosion barriers for a Black Forest homeowner to slow down the flooding of Kettle Creek. Mantia lost his home and 20 acres of trees in the 2013 fire. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

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Located in an unusually dense growth of ponderosa pine whose harvest fueled the 19th century construction and railroad-building booms in the American west, the city's Black Forest community is one defined, in triumph and tragedy, by timber.

In the years after Gen. William Jackson Palmer established the 43,000-acre Colorado Pinery Trust in 1870, more than a dozen sawmills were in operation here, churning out the raw materials used to grow a youthful Denver and the newly-founded city of Colorado Springs, about 20 miles to the south.

By the time the area's eponymous resource turned deadly more than a century later, the logging boom times were long gone. The 128-square mile community in unincorporated El Paso County was known not for industry but primarily as home to some 13,000 residents living a rural-esque lifestyle in suburbia's outskirts, raising families - and maybe chickens and horses - on farms, ranches and large wooded lots.

Cal Liddledale runs the wood chipper as volunteers for Black Forest Together make mulch Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, from the burned trees on Brian and Sherri Little's property in Black Forest. The non-profit group has a long list of projects on private property and is looking for volunteers to help. ( The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

On June 11, 2013, Black Forest became the epicenter of the most destructive fire in Colorado history, a blaze that in 10 days claimed two lives and destroyed more than 14,000 acres and 500 homes.

Four years later, the nonprofit Black Forest Together continues its work healing the burn-scarred terrain and its survivors, while educating residents about the steps they should take to keep such natural disasters from occurring ever again.

The group puts its mantra - "Recover, Rebuild, Restore" - into practice in a multitude of ways, providing guidance and resources on fire mitigation and cleanup as well as seedlings for replanting and other services, on a project basis, including a volunteer-operated wood chipper, donated by the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross, to dispense with hazardous collections of slash.

Donate or get involved with ongoing recovery efforts at blackforesttogether.org.

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