A massive, red-hot bonfire, with flames leaping 30 feet or more into the night sky, has signaled the arrival of Homecoming Weekend on the CSU campus for decades.

A fire that large requires a substantial amount of fuel. Fortunately for Rams everywhere, there is a forest nearby that supplies the wood. Since 2010, the Colorado State Forest Service has provided truckloads of slash to fuel the annual fire.

The 2021 bonfire at CSU.

Borden Memorial Forest

About 25 miles northwest of Fort Collins lies the Borden Memorial Forest, a private forest and certified tree farm. Former State Forester Tom Borden left this 70-acre parcel to the Warner College of Natural Resources to be used as a living classroom, teaching students about forests and forest ecology. Part of the Warner College, the CSFS manages this mixed-conifer forest at an altitude of about 8,000 feet.

Thinning trees is a widely used strategy to promote a healthy, resilient forest – a forest that offers habitat to wildlife, is resilient to wildfire, stores carbon, filters the air and provides controls on erosion, which affects water quality. Thinning a forest mimics the effects of a natural disturbance, like wildfire, and provides several benefits:

  1. Allows adequate sunlight and nutrients for trees to survive and thrive.
  2. Directs the ideal composition of tree species in the forest.
  3. Removes sick trees and trees vulnerable to disease or insects.

When the CSFS thins the Borden Memorial Forest, it ends up with enormous, flammable piles of branches, trunks, needles and other woody material. Removing this slash is a crucial piece of managing forests; it reduces the fuels available for wildfires and helps minimize the severity of them.

Land managers often haul out slash, chip it up or make piles to burn in the winter. But when CSU has a Homecoming Weekend coming up, the CSFS loads the slash up and takes it campus.

“I approached CSU in 2010 to see if they wanted to use the slash from Borden Memorial Forest in the bonfire,” said Mike Hughes, CSFS forester. “It’s a good thing to do because it reduces fuels for wildfire up here.”

Win-Win: Healthier forest, big bonfire

Each year, staff from the CSFS and CSU facilities work with students in the Alpha Chapter of the Society of American Foresters. Together, they load and haul slash from the Borden Memorial Forest to the enormous fire pit on CSU’s campus, just west of the Lory Student Center. On Oct. 13, 15 staff and students filled up four dump trucks with slash to be burned in this year’s bonfire.

Thank you

SAF members Desirae McCutchen (vice president), Chris Curley, Esther Hines, Jacob Huston and Emily Paul played a key role in coming up to Borden Memorial Forest and helping load up the slash. Additionally, organizers said that as CSU Rams enjoy the Homecoming Bonfire, they also are reaping the benefits of effective forest management.