Colorado flood volunteers playing the waiting game

Until forests and other areas damaged by the flood are judged safe and ready for restorative efforts, volunteers can’t pitch in, said  Reghan Cloudman, a public affairs specialist for the US Forest Service.

Volunteer organizers such as the Wildlands Restoration Volunteers and US Forest Service have been forced to cancel or postpone many of their restoration projects after the Poudre River rose over 14.5 ft last week.

“What we’re trying to do now is reschedule projects that we can – that we’ve already invested so much time in and that the volunteers have invested a lot of time in,” said WRV Director John Giordanengo.

A reconnaissance sweep occurred Tuesday to gather a preliminary assessment of the forests, Cloudman. “True” assessments are scheduled to occur Wednesday by forest service employees who will look at the landscape and conditions of affected areas.

Many of their volunteers, including Giordanengo’s superior, were also directly impacted by the natural disaster.

“We have over 5,000 volunteers in our database, so you can imagine quite of few of them live in areas that were affected by the flood,” Giordanengo said.

“I feel like this is the calm before the storm for us because we are in this wait mode,” he added. “As soon as decisions are made, we are going to have to act really quickly to respond to changing needs.”

The WRV is not the only group waiting to hear back from officials at the US Forest Service to see if their projects are going to happen this fall. No one, not even the federal wildlife agency, knows exactly how volunteers will be engaged.

“This is very preliminary,” Cloudman said. “We’re just getting started, so we are not sure how much work we are going to find out there.”

Present volunteer opportunities are few in number compared to what they will be after the assessments have been completed, and the affected areas have been deemed safe for the public.

“There aren’t a lot of specific volunteer opportunities today because we’re still in active rescue mode,” said Kate Hagdorn, spokesperson for United Way of Larimer County. “In the coming days and weeks, we will be moving full on into recovery mode, which is when the most amount of volunteers will be needed with cleanup and restoration.”

In the meantime, United Way has received more than 900 calls since Thursday specifically related to flood assistance, according to Hagdorn.

Material and monetary donations are currently in need.

“People are heartbroken at the devastation and want to do whatever they can to help,” Hagdorn said. “They are just very eager.”

And it isn’t the first time.

“We imagine that volunteers will want to contribute their time like they did with the High Park Fire,” Giordanengo said.

The United Way official said having to handle last year’s natural disaster had implications on handling the recent flooding.

“It certainly prepared us,” Hagdorn said. “Just understanding what the needs of the community might be, in that realm of giving help and getting help.”

The Forest Service aims to know more information about when closed areas will re-open and when organizations like the WRV will be able to begin their efforts by the end of this week or early next week .

“Everyone is still in emergency mode right now,” Giordanengo said. “It will just take time.”

Collegian Reporter Laren Cyphers can be reached at news@collegian.com.