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Society of American Foresters presents Homecoming bonfire

Collegian | Gregory James
The Bonfire at the Friday Night Lights Homecoming festivities Oct. 8, 2021.

Colorado State University students and their parents are preparing for the highly anticipated Homecoming & Family Weekend, which will take place Oct. 12-15. There are multiple events and activities happening throughout the weekend for CSU families and alumni and the Fort Collins community leading up to Saturday’s game against Boise State University — including the beloved annual bonfire.

CSU’s Homecoming bonfire is a time-honored tradition that has warmed the hearts of families for generations. The event began back in the early 1920s when CSU was still the Colorado Agricultural College.


This blazing display of school pride quickly became a cherished tradition, symbolizing the unity of the CSU community. Over the years, safety regulations and community involvement have caused the bonfire to adapt, but it still continues to serve as a symbol of unity thanks to the Society of American Foresters.

“Not only does the bonfire serve its purpose in creating unity and a sense of togetherness, but it’s also a big event for the Society of American Foresters,” said Michael Atkinson, president of the Society of American Foresters’ Alpha Student Chapter.

SAF represents American forestry professionals as a national educational and scientific organization. Founded by Gifford Pinchot and seven others in 1900, SAF is the biggest professional forestry organization worldwide and first began at CSU, deeming it the Alpha Student Chapter.

Each year, staff from the Colorado State Forest Service and CSU Facilities Management work with SAF to set up the fire west of the Lory Student Center the morning of the bonfire.

“We collect the slash for the fire the day before at Borden Memorial Forest, and the next morning, we build the fire and then guard the fire until the lighting happens that night,” said Maddy Minard, SAF Alpha Student Chapter secretary and District 4 student representative. “It’s a fairly simple job, but getting to be an important part of Homecoming festivities is a really awesome opportunity for all our members.”

For this year’s Homecoming bonfire, SAF is taking their commitment to the next level. They will be collaborating with community volunteers and CSU logging sports to excavate branches and foliage to ensure the annual Homecoming bonfire is safe, sustainable and bigger than ever. 

Through their involvement, they have helped highlight the importance of responsible land management, conservation and the role of forests in mitigating climate change, a message that resonates with the CSU community.

“We expose students to professionals from the Colorado-Wyoming SAF state society and take them to the national convention to network with foresters, researchers, academics and policy makers from around the country,” said Bob Sturtevant, SAF member.

Beyond the bonfire, SAF conducts forest management work, mentors students and hosts events to engage the community in forest restoration and wildfire mitigation efforts. They recently earned recognition as the 2023 Outstanding Student Chapter at the national level and continue to strive to provide students with the tools and experiences they need to excel in the field of forestry.


As a student club, SAF welcomes anyone who cares about school spirit, nature and fostering diversity within the forestry and natural resources community. Their mission is to provide students with professional experience, mentorship and hands-on opportunities. 

They hold meetings every other Wednesday and almost every weekend as well as bring in guest speakers, offer volunteer opportunities, provide study hours with optional tutoring and hold social events to create a sense of community among members as well as increase diversity and awareness in forestry.

CSU’s Homecoming bonfire stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of the community and dedication to a better future. Its connection to the Society of American Foresters is a reminder that traditions can evolve while staying true to their roots. 

“The bonfire seems to be the highlight of the Friday night event; there is something awe-inspiring about a large pile of burning wood,” Sturtevant said. “The fire isn’t lit until most of the activities are finished, as it tends to draw people away from the stage area. I don’t think the pep rally would be as interesting or exciting without the bonfire. It really creates a special atmosphere for the event.”

The Homecoming bonfire will take place along with the lighting of the A, fireworks and more during Friday Night Lights 6-8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13.

Reach Sophia Masia at or on Twitter @sophie_masia.

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