Elk Creek firefighters prepare for rock-climbing accidents at Staunton State Park

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By Gabrielle Porter

Elk Creek firefighters spent two days recently practicing rope rescues in anticipation of the October opening of Staunton State Park.

The park will be home to several rock-climbing routes near Staunton Rocks, and firefighters anticipate calls from park users, said Alex Parks, the department’s technical rescue coordinator and a firefighter/EMT. Crews have been familiarizing themselves with the park’s layout over the last two years, including at the Aug. 18-19 training session.

“If any people choose to enjoy Staunton State Park, they should feel certain that emergency services can get in,” said Elk Creek firefighter and paramedic Scott Byars.

Crews are trained in rope rescues but aren’t usually in a situation where they’re rescuing someone from a sheer cliff face, Parks said.

“Where we mostly see them right now is on the side of the road,” he said. “What we’re preparing for is the actual climber incidents.”

Rock climbers who get stuck or who fall and injure themselves may be stranded in places accessible only by ropes. Crews aren’t limited by the height of cliffs, Parks said, because they have 600-foot ropes at their disposal. Parks guesses that the face of the Lion’s Head rocks — the highest cliff in the park — is about 400 feet high.

The department began training its firefighters in rope rescues in 2006. Parks and firefighter/EMT Jacob Ware led the training because both have taken advanced courses and seminars. Parks said that in recent years the department has been supportive of training employees in technical rescues.

Elk Creek crews anticipate responding to calls other than climber emergencies in the park; Parks said most calls likely will come from wiped-out mountain bikers and hikers with sprained ankles or who have gotten up on a rock from which they can’t get down.

The park’s backcountry consists of dense forest, and explorers not taking precautions could get lost, which is a problem if they are injured.

“Sometimes there’s going to be the person that’s like, ‘I started at Staunton Rocks, but I hiked about a half a mile east, and I’m by a rock that looks pointy,’ ” Parks said. “If you’re off a trail, you could get lost. … That’s what’s going to suck.”

While park manager Jennifer Marten has said it’s been a struggle over recent months to keep out trespassers during construction, Parks said the department hasn’t had any calls from the area other than a dog rescue in nearby Elk Falls.

With all the preparation, Parks and other firefighters are mostly looking forward to Staunton’s opening and all it will mean for the Conifer area.

“I think it’s going to change the name of the game for the local economy,” Parks said. “I’m excited because this is ours.”

Contact Gabrielle Porter at gabrielle@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1043. Check www.HighTimberTimes.com for updates.

Tips from firefighters

Here’s how to help firefighters help you if you should need assitance in Staunton State Park — or how to avoid needing them all together. When you’re going into a park:

• Follow basic safety principles: Prepare for the Colorado weather, carry water and make sure you have some way to communicate.

• Tell somebody when and where you are going and what color you are wearing.

• Wear bright colors.

• Never climb alone.

• Pay attention to where you are.

• Don’t climb up on something from which you can’t get back down.

More about Staunton State Park

The park is set to open sometime in October, although an exact date has not been released. Construction on trails and rock-climbing routes is still under way, and the park’s development will happen in several phases.

• Phase 1: The park will open with 18 miles of trails, with 10 miles for hikers, mountain bikers and horses, and 8 miles for hikers only. Rock-climbing routes also will open.

• Phase 2: Campgrounds that are accessible either by car or by a short walk from a parking lot will be added.

• Phase 3: Backcountry cabins, yurts and campsites will be added.

• Phase 4: Suggestions for this phase have included an environmental education center and a shuttle system to transport people to and from trailheads. Other amenities may be included.