Not so fast, Memorial Day weekend campers
Make no mistake: Mother Nature is in control.
That is the message from Kathy Jo Pollock, public affairs officer for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, heading into this Memorial Day weekend.
With a much higher-than-average snowpack still closing off most desired spots along the Mirror Lake Highway area, Pollock said Memorial Day camping and recreation may be significantly slower than years past.
"This is an unusual year," she said. "I don’t know how busy it’s going to be this weekend. Sounds like it’s going to be colder and we’re getting some more precipitation."
The Yellow Pine campground will be the only campground open this weekend along the highway. It requires fees, but will have no available water. The Pine Valley group campground was originally scheduled to open this weekend, but due to lingering standing water, Pollock said, it was just unreasonable to open at this point.
"It’s a group area, normally for large groups, anyway," she said. "Actually, we thought about opening it up for individual site camping, but it’s got a ton of water in it. We’re looking at preventing resource damage."
Pollock said last year the forest had a similarly wet spring, but didn’t have nearly the amount of snowpack remaining from winter.
"Last year, we had a few more campgrounds open for Memorial Day weekend," she said.
"Once we can get in, and the snow melts off, we get into the upper campgrounds and what will happen is, we have trees and limbs that have come down in the winter," she added. "Before we open campgrounds, any kind of hazardous trees or material has to be removed before the summer campgrounds open.
"Hopefully it will be second or third week of June."
Robert Swaim of Salt Lake City took the leisurely drive up to the Mirror Lake Highway area Wednesday, the same drive he’s been doing for the last 20 years or so.
Swaim, who is a photographer and retired psychotherapist, said the area is one of his favorites to find and experience nature.
Taking in his lunch at the Lower Provo campground area, less than a half-mile below Pine Valley, Swaim said he expects to see the open camping spots taken up this weekend.
"Every spot that’s open, there’s going to be people there," he said. "It should be packed if the weather holds."
Swaim said he is eager for the rest of the snowpack currently closing the Mirror Lake Highway and Wolf Creek Pass state roads to melt so he can get deeper into the forest. There is currently no access to the Soapstone Basin as well as Cedar Hollow.
Pollock asks drivers of off-road motorized vehicles such as four-wheelers and dirt bikes, to avoid mud-soaked tracks as much as possible so they don’t cause significant damage.
"It’s going to be very limited to where they can actually take their vehicles," she said. "Most lower-elevation trails are wet and muddy. The higher-elevations are packed with snow. We will not open trails until they can sustain these vehicles."
She also said mountain bikers are asked to proceed warily in spots that are muddy. While bikes aren’t as heavy as motorized vehicles, they can still cause ruts in the wet trails.
"We ask that people be patient and maybe wait until they do dry out," Pollock said.
She added mountain bikes are not allowed in the high-wilderness areas and in the "semi-primitive areas," where trails have been closed due to special circumstances.
Pollock said she hasn’t heard if the campground fees have increased from last year, but said the pass fees remained the same. Three-day passes are $6, seven-day passes are $12, and an annual pass for the forest is $45. Camping fees are additional.
Asked if flooding is a significant concern once the summer months roll around, Pollock said, "I haven’t heard a major concern; it just depends on if we get some really warm temperatures and if that snow melts really rapidly. That would be a concern pretty much anywhere."
Pollock urged campers and visitors to be wary of the rapid waters around the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache forest.
"People really do need to be heads-up if they are out camping," she said. "Whether it be camping in a campground or just dispersed sites, make sure they’ve got their eyes on their kids and pets by any kind of creeks and rivers, just to keep a heads up-and watch the weather."
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