Group of CU Denver students who planted trees​More than 300 new trees planted by CU Denver students are dotting the landscape in Colorado’s Pike National Forest where the arson-triggered ‘Hayman fire’ blackened more than 200 acres and destroyed more than 130 homes in June 2002.

Students in the CU Denver University Honors and Leadership (UHL) program started the tree planting project last October by organizing a fund-raising hike along the Goose Creek Trail into the Lost Creek Wilderness. The fire-devastated area includes parts of both Teller and Jefferson Counties.

Donors pledged money for every mile hiked by the UHL students for a total of $1,546 to cover the cost of materials for planting young trees.

The UHL students arranged to work with the Coalition of the Upper South Platte (CUSP) to buy and plant trees in the Hayman burn area to help combat soil erosion.

Then on April 27, with funds raised and the purchase of trees arranged through the U.S. Forest Service, 40 volunteers – 36 students, two parents and two CU Denver staff members – gathered in the burn area along Trail Creek Road. After a talk from CUSP employees about how to safely plant trees – including how not to use your shovel and the necessity of a hard hat in case a tree falls in the wind – the team set to work.

Students were careful to follow instructions for digging holes a foot-wide and a foot-deep, then adding liquid polymer to help retain moisture, placing the three-year-old saplings into the holes and packing the soil around the trunk. Adding to the challenge was planting on sloped terrain along a Forest Service road, requiring students to take care to avoid fallen trees and spikes on “shin attacking” yucca plants.

The students worked in teams of eight, cheering on their colleagues as they drove shovels into gravelly dirt. After all, more holes dug meant more trees could be planted. But not just anywhere. As the students learned from the CUSP staff, in order for the saplings to have a good chance of survival, the holes had to be dug in locations shaded from the afternoon sun and sufficiently far removed from other living trees. And, a lot of holes were started, then stopped by rocks — prompting students to adjust to another spot.

Humor, too, was part of the activity. “If a UHL student falls in the woods, does anyone hear it?” asked Itzel Gourmelon (Anthropology ’14) as she moved down the steep hill, slipping on gravel. “More like, if a UHL student falls in the woods, does anyone care?” responded Jennifer Mayo (English ’13) who later tangled with a yucca plant.

As they ended the day and headed home, the students acknowledged planting 300 saplings will not instantly lead to forest recovery (that will take several hundred years), but they know their effort will help secure the road and hillside from erosion.

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