First, the snow came down. Then the trees started to fall.
“It sounds like a gunshot when they go down sometimes,” said Keith Bugbee, head coach of the men’s lacrosse team. “It’s crazy.”
Bugbee was spending the night of Oct. 29 at East Campus when Winter Storm Alfred struck.
“My wife and I work with our church youth group and every year we go for a retreat out there in the Pueblo,” said Bugbee. “We actually usually do two, one fall and one winter, this one turned into winter.”
As bad as the damage was on the main campus, East Campus seems to have been struck even harder by Alfred.
“Really that next day, that Monday, (Angela) Veatch and I really started to take a look and notice that for the high ropes course about half the high ropes elements had been destroyed,” said Ben Taylor, director of East Campus and Outdoor Programs. “So we’re going to have to take those down and then there’s just extensive tree damage throughout the property.”
The storm brought down trees all over the property, obscuring familiar landmarks. The Pueblo avoided any major damage with just a cracked window and a broken fence.
“The trails we’re used to walking on almost every day,” said Angela Veatch, assistant director of East Campus and Outdoor Programs, “you couldn’t even get through because of the destruction that’s out there right now.”
A walk through East Campus showed trees and limbs down through the area. Taylor and Veatch have been working to clear the trails that are used most often, but there is an even bigger danger. Branches that break off but stay caught up in the tree canopy, known as “widow makers,” make work hazardous, especially in windy conditions.
“It’s going to be just as bad up in the air,” said Veatch, indicating a broken branch caught high up in a tree. “This right here is just a humongous widow maker. We can’t tell if the wind picks up (what will happen). I mean, last Friday, we didn’t even work because it was too dangerous. Before we can open the property back up, we need to clear those.”
According to Taylor, East Campus will more than likely remain closed for at least four months and will not be fully operational until the spring. Taylor and Veatch have been working alone for the most part, at the moment, due to the danger of the surroundings.
“Due to the risk management portion of everything, we can’t have a lot of individuals come out,” said Veatch. “But we were fortunate to have a few alumni come back that have worked for us in the past that know our grounds.”
Bugbee’s youth group spent an interesting night on East Campus, deciding to wait the storm out rather than try and leave.
“We had about 25 kids, all high school kids,” said Bugbee. “I mean it was actually a better place to be. We lost power there, too, but they had generator lights so we had lights come on. And I had the fire cranked up and that thing really maintained pretty good warmth; it kept the whole building pretty warm, but it was fun. The kids had a good attitude.”
When Sunday morning dawned, Bugbee and his group were stuck in the Pueblo due to the amount of trees and power lines across the driveway. They were able to get out by midday on Sunday thanks to Taylor.
“Ben came out there sort of like a white knight on a horse with his chain saw,” said Bugbee. “He was great.”
After helping the group out of East Campus, Taylor has been hard at work all week with Veatch, making it safe for more people to come out.
“We’ve had a really positive outreach of people wanting to come out and help,” said Taylor. “It’s been tough to have to say no because of the conditions and not wanting to put people at risk, ‘cause I know a lot of people just want to get out here and do some good.”
“So I’d certainly like to put a big thank you out to all those willing to sacrifice their personal time for the betterment of the property,” Taylor added. “As soon as we can make it safe enough to do so, we’ll let them come out.”
Josh Ernst may be reached at email@example.com