Forest Service monitors forest access points but doesn’t anticipate new, major closures
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct information about the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area.
DILLON — While some National Forest land including ski areas and recreation facilities like toilets and group sites are closed, the Forest Service has left other recreation — mainly hiking and cross-country skiing trails — open for local residents to get outside during the novel coronavirus quarantine. However, the Forest Service still asks people to use their best judgment when recreating so that individuals don’t become “part of the problem.”
White River National Forest Mountain Sports Program Manager Roger Poirier said the trails are generally open aside from a few highly trafficked trails or recreation areas like Sapphire Point. While Sapphire Point trail is open, the toilet is closed and the site is closed to group use reservations through April 30. Other nearby recreation areas, like Hanging Lake Trail, are closed. The Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area cannot be publicly accessed from Interstate 70 and parking is closed, although the area is open from the Redcliff and Camp Hale access points.
Poirier recommended calling the local ranger for a forest area to ask about trail condition information regarding snowpack and road access. For Summit County specific information, contact the Dillon Ranger District in Silverthorne, call 970-468-5400 or check the Forest Service’s webpage on the Dillon Ranger District for updates.
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Poirier said that campgrounds in the area wouldn’t typically be open this time of year anyway as they don’t open until late spring normally. Many campsite and other recreation area reservations are currently on hold as the Forest Service, like everyone else, does not know how long the public health risk from COVID-19 will last.
“We don’t want to bog down our reservation system only to refund people,” Poirier said.
In the White River National Forest’s latest release, the Forest Service acknowledged people’s desire to exercise during the quarantine but asked that people follow public health guidelines when recreating, including using social distancing practices. The Forest Service said they would monitor access points and may adjust management of forest areas in order to keep group sizes small.
“We understand people want to get out there and we’re asking people to recreate responsibly,” Poirier said.
As for how many people is too many on a trail, Poirier said there isn’t a “magic number,” but to use one’s best judgment. He said to find another place to recreate if the place looks too crowded or if there are a lot of cars at the trailhead.
“At some point, you’re part of the problem,” Poirier said. “Right now all we can do is monitor those access points, those trailheads.”
At the moment Poirier said the Forest Service doesn’t foresee any new, major closures. Instead the Forest Service will be monitoring locations and may make changes to management of certain trails and recreation spots. So far, he said a ban on backcountry access has not been discussed. Yet, he stressed to “know before you go” when recreating in the backcountry when it comes to proper safety information. He said it is important to not be taxing on law enforcement and search and rescue teams.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center stated in their COVID-19 information update that while the center always encourages people to get information about current snow, weather and avalanche conditions before making plans for the day in the backcountry, it is important right now to factor public health conditions into your plan. The information page asked people to check the current public health orders before heading out, staying home if sick, keeping social distance and to “avoid times and places of high use.” The center also asked people to avoid traveling in high risk or remote terrain and to consider avoiding avalanche terrain altogether.
Poirier added that while the ski areas are on National Forest land and people are typically allowed to gain uphill access to these areas, the ski areas have closed completely all public access in compliance with the state orders. On March 27, all five local ski areas joined in putting out a video asking people to respect the closures and follow public health guidelines.
The Friends of the Dillon Ranger District group has also canceled or postponed all programs and activities through early May, according to a news release.
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