Update from Brad Abbott, Executive DirectorPosted by Andy
Sky Ranch programs have resumed at Sky Ranch as of July 8! Our heart-felt thanks to those who helped us during our recent evacuation and relocation to Highlands Presbyterian Camp. And thank you to those around the country who held and continue to hold us in their prayers. We are excited to be home!
Bear/Property Update: As you have no doubt heard or seen on TV, in our three week absence from Sky Ranch, two bears tore into our trash shed, scattering garbage all across the property. Displaced by the fire and hungry, they took up residence in our lodge and helped themselves to a feast from our kitchen and pantry. Needless to say they made a huge mess in the lodge and around our property!
On Tuesday, July 3, we hosted a work day to begin the process of cleaning up the mess that our bear friend left behind. With the help of Kent Garvin, volunteers from Colorado Iron and Metal, and a few seasonal staff; we started the process to ready the camp for our work weekend and campers. We hauled two dumpsters full of trash away at the end of the day to remove any enticement that would draw the bears to camp.
Returning to camp on Thursday, July 5, we discovered that the bear(s) had returned. Since all the doors were locked, a window was forced open to gain entry to the lodge. Because we had cleaned most of the mess from their first foray into our kitchen, they had to look harder to find food. In the process they tore out the grease trap and drip pan on our stove, chewed on a grill brick and made a mess with the little food they did find. The biggest problem was that our prep island in the center of the kitchen, was pushed aside, breaking the waterline to the prep sink. The kitchen floor and serving area were flooded, with several thousands of gallons of water pouring down into the basement into the restrooms, laundry room, and our maintenance (electrical) room. We were fortunate to have floor drains in the basement to help remove the water, but it ruined the ceiling and walls in several of the basement rooms. We did call Serve Pro to help with the cleaning and disinfecting process that night.
So what are we doing to eliminate the bear problem at Sky Ranch? While at camp on Tuesday, July 3, Andy and I met with Chad Morgan, our District Wildlife Manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. We crafted a plan to deal with our roaming bears. One of the bears, the larger cinnamon colored bear, had already been hazed by the Forest Service fire crew housed at CSU’s Pingree Park campus. The hazing seems to have worked as it has not been seen since the first kitchen raid.
That leaves us with a yearling black bear to re-educate prior to the arrival of campers. This bear is young and does not seem to be habituated to humans (it’s scared of us and runs off when we are around). This is good! On Tuesday we did set a pepper spray trap near the trash shed so, if sprung, the yearling would learn to associate the trash shed with a very unpleasant experience. When we arrived Thursday, the spray had been discharged and there was no further damage to the trash shed. With the arrival of some board members and staff on Thursday, the bear has been seen but has not gotten into anything. The arrival of more staff and work retreat volunteers on Friday (lots of noisy staff and guests), combined with the removal of any accessible attractants, should discourage the bear from hanging around and go elsewhere for food.
Since this is a young bear and not as quick to learn as the older one, we have contingency plans to further deter him from being at camp including the use of a paintball gun (with frozen paintballs) as a deterrent.
Camper and staff safety is the primary concern for the board and staff at Sky Ranch. We would not open the camp to campers if we did not feel confident in ensuring their safety. Chad Morgan (District Wildlife Manager), the Forest Service and the sheriff’s Department have all been notified of our bear activity. Chad will increase his presence in the area and will be at camp Monday, July 9 to educate staff and campers about common sense deterrents. Many of these are already standard protocol for staff and campers at Sky Ranch and include:
- Collecting trash from outside containers on a daily basis (so trash isn’t left out over night), especially around the lodge and campground
- Not allowing food/drinks in vehicles or buildings other than the lodge, camp store and the backpack center (all have secured storage)
- Groups of 3 or more are required when traveling around camp, especially at night
- Additionally, for the time being during weekday programming:
- All meals will be cooked and served in the lodge (both due to bear activity and fire bans)
- Resource Staff will conduct nightly patrols around camp to insure that the bear is not lingering
If you have any further questions about the bears; please contact the camp office at 970-493-5258, or you can call me on my cell phone at 970-817-1574.
High Fire Update: With the recent rains in our area, the High Park fire is not a threat to Sky Ranch. The area around the camp is not affected by the fire although you can see where the fire-fighters did put fire lines around many of our buildings. Fire crews continue patrolling the fire perimeter and conducting fire line rehabilitation. Chippers continue to work along roadsides to clean up debris that was cut prior to burn out operations. Crews are determining how to reduce impacts of post-fire conditions since wildfires do increase the potential for flooding, erosion, mudslides and debris flow.
Sky Ranch truly is a garden in the midst of the devastation of the High Park fire (no wonder the bears want to be there). Standing on the deck of the lodge, you would never there was a fire so close to our property. As you drive through the burn area please drive cautiously and stay alert for firefighters, distracted drivers, rocks, mudslides or debris on the roads. Please continue to pray for all those affected by the fires or any of the violent weather across the country.