For many, Memorial Day weekend is the official start to the summer camping season. But while the weather has been warming, U.S. Forest Service officials are still encouraging visitors to be careful when heading outdoors early in the summer season.
“This time of year people need to take caution,” White River Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams told the Daily. “The High Country is still in a different season.”
He explained that this year — with an early holiday weekend and large snowpack — that was especially true. Higher elevation areas that may have been accessible in previous years may not be this year due to substantial late season snow.
Fitzwilliams also cautioned that with the potential for rain in the forecast that could mean snow and ice at higher elevations.
With wet conditions and snow melt, the potential for drivers to get stranded on less maintained Forest Service roads is high.
“That’s where we’ve had problems in the past,” Fitzwilliams said. “It can be a long walk or a cold overnight.”
For someone unprepared it could even be fatal, he cautioned.
Venturing on muddy roads can also damage them by creating deep ruts.
“That stays with us the rest of the year,” Fitzwilliams said, adding that it is difficult for his staff to address. “Wherever we can get help there we’d appreciate it.”
With wet conditions in mind, Forest Service officials are also discouraging dispersed camping — or camping outside of designated camp grounds — at this time, due to the potential for similar damage to trails and Forest Service land.
When reached for comment, Dillon Ranger District visitor information specialist Jim Lamb said, “It’s so wet and so muddy. Dispersed camping is just a much better idea when it’s dry. We’re concerned with such things as erosion and damage to the forest.”
Should people feel a need to get into the backcountry for early season camping, officials recommend a dry site and remind campers to set up 100 feet from any trail or water source.
Backcountry and wilderness area visitors are also advised not to set up near dead beetle-kill trees as they may fall at any time, especially with windy conditions that may occur overnight.
At higher elevations avalanches also remain a consideration.
While accessing higher elevation areas may continue to be an issue, the wet conditions mean no fire restrictions for the White River National Forest at this time.
Forecasters are calling for a mild fire season for the Summit County area but both Fitzwilliams and Lamb said that could change with the weather.
Lamb added that the fire threat can rise between when the snow melts and before the forest has had a chance to green.
As always, wildlife interaction remains a concern. Fitzwilliams cautioned that bears are coming out of hibernation and reminded campers to properly store food overnight.
“A normal cooler is not a challenge to a bear,” he added.
Green Mountain Reservoir and Lake Dillon campgrounds
With the exception of the Blue River Campground north of Silverthorne, all Lake Dillon and Green Mountain-area campgrounds are open for the season.
“A lot of people around here have put forth a lot of effort to get everything open on time,” Lamb said. “I’d say we’re pretty much on schedule.”
The Blue River Campground is scheduled to be open sometime in mid-June. Lamb said there were some beettle-kill trees on site that still needed to be removed.
Most higher elevation campgrounds are likely to remain closed until further notice. Updated campground information can be found at the White River National Forest website.
Scenic Mountain Roads on track to open
While higher elevation campgrounds may still be closed, CDOT and the Forest Service have been able to clear a number of popular high elevation scenic roads.
Independence Pass near Aspen was opened to the public on Thursday. The access road to Maroon Lake was also cleared, but many of the trails in the area are still snow covered. Forest Service officials caution hikers traveling on snow-covered trails to exercise caution. Snow that may be frozen in the morning for hikers to walk on can melt during the day and make return travel through deep slushy snow difficult.
Mount Evans Road in Clear Creek County has been cleared to Summit Lake. Officials expect the rest of the road to Mount Evans to be cleared later in the week.
Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park is also expected to be open in time for the weekend.
More information on campground openings and other Forest Service issues is available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/whiteriver/
More information on area trails conditions is available in the Summit Daily’s Saturday trail story by Krista Driscoll