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CC Students Map Waldo Canyon Restoration Efforts

Four Colorado College students are working with CC’s Collaborative for Community Engagement to help with the Waldo Canyon fire clean-up efforts. The students, Erica Sarro ’13, Andrew Allen-Fahlander ’13, Edward Crawford ’14, and Dylan Sondermann ’15 have created an interactive map that allows officials to track restoration progress in the Mountain Shadows and Parkside communities on the west side of Colorado Springs.

“The map is very useful to us, as well as to the community,” said Bob Cutter, president of Colorado Springs Together, a community-wide volunteer effort to restore and rebuild the fire-ravaged neighborhood. “From a project management standpoint, this map is a terrific tool.”

The GIS map, a centerpiece of the Colorado Springs Together website, is used by the Colorado Springs Police and Fire Departments, El Paso County Regional Building Department, the Mountain Shadows and Parkside Home Owners Associations, and citizens throughout the community to track the progress of restoration efforts in the neighborhoods destroyed by fire. The CC students visit the site at least every other week, sometimes more frequently, photographing progress and posting updates to the map.

Map users can roll over an area and find a photo and details of each individual home site. The CC students used Batchgeo to create overlays that show photos of each property as well as status of the debris removal process, security of the foundation, status of landscape removal and restoration, and whether a building permit has been issued.

The color-coded map makes it easy to track progress. “It’s a visualization of a neighborhood coming back. People don’t want to read pages and pages of a report to get information. This is a great way to provide information quickly and visually,” Cutter said.

Jessica Copeland, director of the Collaborative for Community Engagement, said the project is an ideal way to integrate community-based learning and research. “It’s a remarkable experience. It’s amazing for undergraduate students to know that they are contributing to reports for the police and fire departments and that the mayor of the city will study their map.”

Copeland said working on the map will forever change the way the students think about mapping. “This has been very real,” she said. “It’s a map of loss, tragedy, and resilience.”

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Sarro, an environmental science major from Pleasantville, N.Y., joined the project because she wanted to reach out to the Colorado Springs community. “Sometimes I feel I live at CC and not in Colorado Springs. I wanted to be more connected to the people here,” she said. “I think it’s important to engage where you’re living and engage with the people around you.”

Allen-Fahlander, a philosophy major from Concord, Mass., was in Colorado Springs when the fire erupted this summer. He’s on the team now, interested in sustainable architecture, and hopes to work on a later phase of the project, “Build it Back Green.”

Cutter had nothing but praise for the CC students – and alumni. “The students wanted to get involved, and they are genuinely concerned and want to help,” he said. “They are creative, and they get it. They’re enthusiastic, have great ideas, and can work quickly and efficiently with the tools we have.”

He also had praise for CC alumni, noting that several had sent generous checks to his organization, citing their “fond memories of CC” in their accompanying letters.  “They still have ties to this community,” he said.

At the beginning of the project, the CC students worked with Bob Croft '72, deputy building official and development coordinator at the County Regional Building Department. "I told them what we needed, and then they gathered in a huddle and mapped out a strategy. They are very self-sufficient."

The 18,000-acre Waldo Canyon fire, which erupted in late June, destroyed 346 homes, took two lives, and resulted in insurance claims totaling more than $352.6 million.