photo - Mina Rodriguez-Sanchez, left, jumps while running in to cross the finish line of the Waldo Waldo 5k with her family, Cristobal, Maya and Andrea Rodriguez-Sanchez, on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (The Gazette, Nadav Soroker)
Mina Rodriguez-Sanchez, left, jumps while running in to cross the finish line of the Waldo Waldo 5k with her family, Cristobal, Maya and Andrea Rodriguez-Sanchez, on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (The Gazette, Nadav Soroker) 

Just two and a half weeks after the reopening of the Waldo Canyon burn area, thousands of Waldos and Wendas flooded downtown Colorado Springs on Saturday to celebrate at the Waldo Waldo 5K.

"It's exciting that it's open and to know that we were a part of it," said Olivia Franks, one of the race coordinators. "It's what we've been working for."

It was clear racers were excited too. More than 3,000 smiling "Where's Waldo?" characters in the distinctive red and white striped shirt, bobble hat and glasses danced and laughed their way 3.2 miles around downtown. Organizers did not have an exact tally of participants Saturday.

Kayla Fisk sits on the shoulders of Federico Salvo in the middle of a crowd of waldos as they wait for a group picture before the Waldo Waldo 5k through downtown Colorado Springs on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (The Gazette, Nadav Soroker) 

Last year, the race fell just short of breaking the Guinness World Record for the most number of people dressed as Waldo and Wenda with 3,524. The world record, set in 2011 at the Street Performance World Championship in Dublin, is 3,872.

Since the inaugural race in 2012, the Waldo Waldo 5K has raised over $150,000. Although the event organizers do not have a final number for this year's fundraising, Frank thinks they will pass the $200,000 mark.

The money raised from the race supports fire recovery efforts in the Waldo burn area as well as maintenance of other Colorado Springs-area trails and open space. Beneficiaries include the Trails and Open Space Coalition and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI).

Becca Sickbert, eyeball, stretches on the lawn of the Pioneer Museum before the Waldo Waldo 5k through downtown Colorado Springs to raise money for the Waldo Canyon Fire on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. Sickbert works for Elope, the presenting sponsor of the race. (The Gazette, Nadav Soroker) 

"The race is great because it's a high-energy event," said RMFI program coordinator Joe Lavorini. "People are excited to be outside and moving around after recovering from what was a pretty tragic event."

Since the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012, RMFI has worked with hundreds of volunteers to protect Manitou Springs, the Mountain Shadows neighborhood and other areas below the burn area from flash flood hazards, mainly through slope stabilization work and soil restoration.

Runners take off from the starting line at the Waldo Waldo 5k on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (The Gazette, Nadav Soroker) 

Their efforts helped to accelerate the Oct. 4 reopening of the burn scar area.

"We're at the point where the Forest Service feels that there's no longer a threat in terms of flash flooding, or at least not as high of a threat as it was, largely because of the soil stabilization work that was done in there" Lavorini said.

The long-beloved Waldo Canyon trail remains closed, but the burn area itself is open for what Evan Burks, who is overseeing recreation in a temporary role at the Pikes Peak Ranger District, called a "bushwacking kind of experience."

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