Some wildfire evacuation routes in northwest Evergreen will get much-needed mitigation by the end of 2023.

Saw crews from the Mile High Youth Corps will work to thin and limb trees on 30 feet of property on each side of 14.5 miles of the main evacuation routes from Evergreen Lake to Soda Creek and from Evergreen Parkway to Witter Gulch Road.

The work is being funded by a grant from COSWAP — the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program. According to its website, COSWAP is designed to use $17.5 million in state stimulus dollars to start fuels reduction projects and increase Colorado’s capacity to conduct wildfire mitigation work.

The grant — estimated to be valued at $295,000 by Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources — will pay for 25 weeks of work: up to five weeks in fall 2022 and the rest in 2023.

The grant was written by leaders, called ambassadors, of three of Evergreen Fire/Rescue’s Community Wildfire Protection Implementation Plans in collaboration with EFR. The work will encompass evacuation routes in six plan units: Echo Hills, Soda Creek, Bear Creek West and East, Beaver Brook and Witter Gulch.

“This is something to celebrate,” said Cindy Latham, a leader of Evergreen’s CWPIP group. “When you demonstrate that you are serious and you fulfill your obligations, the people who issue grants take you a lot more seriously. We have hundreds of miles of roads that are evacuation routes in this community. The more that groups are collaborating, the better.”

Jess Moore, EFR’s reduction risk coordinator, agreed.

“From our perspective, every successful grant is a win for the community,” she said, “and it’s been one of our goals to start to prioritize evacuation routes. We are working in cooperation and collaboration with the ambassadors of the (Community Wildfire Protection Plan).”

She said EFR officials want to empower ambassadors with the tools to work together to get wildfire mitigation because it is important to use all available resources to get the work done.

The CWPIP leaders hope their success in obtaining this grant will morph into getting more wildfire-mitigation funding from the federal government. They also say they are happy to share the lessons they learned in getting the COSWAP grant with others CWPIP leaders because there is still money available in that fund.

Work to be done

Mile High Youth Corps estimates it can complete work on four and eight acres of land each week, and the group will mitigate along 14.5 miles of road. Included in the plan are 1.9 miles of Highway 65; 1.2 miles of Sinton Road, 4.7 miles of Witter Gulch Road, 1 mile of Snyder Mountain Road, 1 mile of Soda Creek Road, 2.2 miles of Upper Bear Creek Road, 1.1 miles of Yankee Creek Road,  0.8 miles of Old Squaw Pass Road and 0.6 miles of Aspen Place.

The ambassadors of the six CWPIP units are tasked with getting property-owner consent to do the tree thinning — not a fuel break where all trees are removed — and they hope that homeowners understand how necessary the work is to help residents evacuate in case of a catastrophic wildfire. Evergreen and Conifer are ranked No. 1 by insurance companies for the high risk of a wildfire.

While the grant doesn’t require a cash match, EFR will provide oversight, and CWPIP volunteers will donate wood to Evergreen Christian Outreach’s firewood program for needy families and Habitat for Humanity, and remove wood chips and slash. The ambassadors have found someone willing to donate an air curtain burner to burn excess slash.

“We keep talking as community leaders about our evacuation routes and that we really need to get proactive about getting them mitigated,” Latham said. “This is the very first community-generated major evacuation route program that is being accomplished.”