COLORADO SPRINGS — It's been eight years since the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed the Flying W Ranch in Colorado Springs and on Friday the beloved attraction officially reopened.
Flying W has been a staple in Colorado Springs since 1953 and quickly became a worldwide attraction, but on June 26, 2012 the ranch was changed forever.
The facility was ravaged by the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire that consumed more than 18,000 acres in western Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and Woodland Park. The fire claimed two lives, and destroyed 346 buildings, most of them in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.
Now, after years of rebuilding, guests will be able to have an "Old West" experience once again.
Steve Wilch said, "It was something iconic. It's something that people would always tell you you've got to experience."
Like so many others in Colorado Springs, and even across the world, the Flying W Ranch means something special to Wilch. He said,"I've taken my family. We've sat there and we've had that Chuckwagon Dinner."
But his relationship with the ranch goes beyond that. Wilch is a battalion chief with the Colorado Springs Fire Department. He shared that before the Waldo Canyon Fire he and other firefighters were there "often and frequently, were walking the property. We were there on their mitigation efforts."
On the morning of June 27, 2012 "I put foot on the Flying W Ranch property and I saw destruction," said Wilch. "It was very sobering because you felt like a memory was pulled from your mind. It felt like you were losing something that was family."
While pieces of history were lost, the heart of Flying W has remained strong.
Aaron Winter, general manager of Flying W Ranch said, "We're back in the saddle so to speak." He's been with the ranch for more than 20 years.
He said, "This is a surreal day and it's one of those days that I've been looking forward to for the last eight years...we just never knew if we would exactly get here and we've been pushing and pushing and pushing."
He calls Friday's grand reopening the final piece of the puzzle.
He said, "For the last eight years neighbors have rebuilt homes, you know, trees have been planted...it's that final piece of Waldo has been healed so it's a great feeling."
Winter shared that about 350 people bought tickets for the sold out reopening.
The Flying W does have a new attraction this year - the American Milking Devon oxens. Besides other activities like Navajo rug weaving and silversmith work, guests can also enjoy the Chuckwagon Dinner and Western Musical Show performed by the Flying W Wranglers.
The ranch has been somewhat impacted by COVID-19. The original date for the reopening was May 21. It was then scheduled for June 26, but was again postponed until July 10.
CLICK HERE for more information on Flying W Ranch.
At first, the Waldo Canyon Fire was a concern to the west of Colorado Springs until after four days the winds shifted, rolling the fire into neighborhoods. Thousands of people were displaced as flames jumped house to house, giving people just minutes to grab what they could and flee.
You can also find our News5 Special 'Fire on the Mountain' which covers the first 12 days of the fire. It is available in this story, plus on your favorite streaming device, under the Specials tab. How to watch News5 on your favorite streaming device.
Drought is a continuous problem in our region due to our arid mountain climate. Learn more on fire dangers: Southern Colorado fire danger warning backed by fire science