We've been following from afar the wildfires near Colorado Springs. Not only did we once live there for 12 years, but the two properties we formerly helped run, Eagle Lake Camp and Glen Eyrie Conference Center, have been evacuated with our old west side neighborhood just down the street from the Garden of the Gods about to be so. (As you may have read in my previous post, we're due to be at both in a couple of weeks, and really hope to find all places still standing and intact, with our friends still involved with them in one piece.)
During our time in Colorado, we went through a fire scare once before: in 2002, a massive wildfire came within several miles of Eagle Lake and we were forced to evacuate camp down to Glen Eyrie. I coordinated things on the bottom end, handling communications with those coming down from camp and making sure we had what we needed to handle the extra influx of 250 campers and 100 staff in the midst of hundreds of guests already at the Glen. We had a good team (pic) working together on both ends of Queen's Canyon (the nine-mile-long canyon running between the two properties), and things went as well as we could have hoped, with camp back up and going a week later.
Five years previous in 1998, we dealt with another crisis - heavy rains and flash flooding with 250 campers and staff only halfway down Queen's Canyon. I was monitoring the hike from above on Rampart Range Road and was in radio communication with them and it sounded awful. Judging by what I heard in radio conversation and considering what the weather looked like it was going to do, I made the call to bring in Search and Rescue, but again, it was our team (pic) who did most of the searching and rescuing; even after S&R determined it was too dangerous to do anything with the last of our group still in the canyon, our guys were going back up and bringing folks back down. It was such a memorable experience that we printed T-shirts to hand out to campers and staff at the end of that week's camp.
Being so removed from this summer's action as I am now in Oklahoma reminds me of the summer of 1993 when I was at Eagle Lake (elevation 9,600 feet) while my family back in Illinois were doing everything they could to help sandbag and hold back the Mississippi River from flooding more land than it already had. The Flood of 1993 was surreal and hard to imagine sitting on top of a mountain in Colorado, but after 2002's fire, I don't have to imagine the the kind of fire and damage Colorado's experiencing (you could see and smell it). I am, however, struggling to imagine Eagle Lake and the Glen - places that have meant so much to hundreds of thousands of people over time and so much to me for the 12 years I was there - possibly being swallowed by a fiery blaze.
Earlier today, I sent an email to some of the guys I labored with during those developmental years. Knowing they were up to their eyeballs in details and decisions and not necessarily anticipating an answer, I typed: "Following from afar with all the fire stuff. Sorry to hear camp this week is canceled and both properties were evacuated. Hope they get it contained. Thinking of you."
An hour or so later, I got a response back from my friend and mentor, Jack McQueeney, executive director of Glen Eyrie and Eagle Lake. Ever the optimist, Jack sent back the most faith-filled of email messages: "We need a T-shirt!"
Lord, get them through this and I'll be happy to design one.