Kamas rangers brace for holiday rush Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff
Though the number of visitors to the Uinta Mountains drops significantly when snow falls, thousands of snowmobilers, snowshoers and backcountry skiers visited the Wasatch-Cache National Forest near Kamas last year. With four feet of snow near Mirror Lake on Friday rangers are beginning to brace for the holiday rush. "There’s a lot to do in Kamas during the winter," U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kathy Jo Pollock said. Each year, the Mirror Lake Highway, which runs about 60 miles through the forest between Kamas and the Wyoming state line, becomes a snowmobile thoroughfare. Crews do not plow the road and it was gated near Soapstone campground on Nov. 29, Pollock said. "Make sure you’re prepared for it," she advises. "Let somebody know where you’re going and when you’re going to be back."
The Cedar Hollow all-terrain vehicle road is also locked for the winter, Pollock added. "The W.C. in Wasatch-Cache forest, I think, stands for ‘world class,’" acting Kamas District Ranger Todd Mowrer said Friday. "People in Park City or even the Wasatch Front can go out their back door and recreate and be back home for dinner."
Cathy Kahlow will start Jan. 23 as Kamas’ newest chief ranger, he added. "I just think that this whole forest is just a totally unique and special recreation situation for the residents," Mowrer continued. "I love Kamas. It’s going to be hard to leave." It’s rare for a National Forest to have 12 miles of groomed trail for skiing and snowshoeing, he said. Kamas snow ranger Mike Thibodeaux oversees the maintenance of the Beaver Creek ski trail, which begins about eight miles from Kamas near Yellow Pine. "The Beaver Creek trail is just awesome right now," Thibodeaux said, adding that the trail is currently covered in 15 inches of "sugary" snow.
Recreating this winter in the Kamas Ranger District will cost $3 per day, or $6 for a seven-day pass. The fees allow the Utah Department of Transportation to groom snow on the Mirror Lake Highway from Soapstone to Kamas, Thibodeaux said, adding that last year Kamas rangers saw a 98 percent collection rate on user fees. "That’s great numbers," he said. Fees also fund the maintenance of four restrooms along the highway and a "warming hut" near Mirror Lake, Thibodeaux said. "We keep that open all winter with an active propane stove in it. All you do is flick a switch & it probably saved about four lives last year," he added. Avalanche danger, however, is high this weekend in the Kamas district, Mowrer said. Thibodeaux adds, "Watch the snow conditions and watch the weather." Stay off steep slopes in excess of 35 degrees and be prepared with shovels, probes and beacons, and know how to use the equipment if someone becomes buried in a slide, he said.
"We do a lot of avalanche education here," Thibodeaux said. "It is very dangerous." Meanwhile, much of the interest this year in the Wasatch-Cache has come from families seeking permits to harvest holiday trees, Pollock said. "It’s extremely popular. There are a lot of families that do that every year," she said. "We’ve had quite a few calls this year."
Because of an infestation of bark beetles in the forest, trees cannot be cut in Kamas. However, in the nearby Evanston and Mountain View Ranger Districts permits are available for $10, Pollock said.
For more information about services offered this winter in Kamas, contact the district at (435) 783-4338.
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Landslides in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Sunday forced authorities to send drivers above the debris field over Guardsman Pass and into Park City as they navigated a route to the Wasatch Front. One of the landslides was considered to be major and cut off S.R. 190.