Forest Service says ‘snow long’ to winter
ASPEN – Several White River National Forest campgrounds and other facilities will open for Memorial Day weekend, but visitors should be prepared for snowpacked or muddy trails, swollen streams and potentially dangerous conditions.
Pitkin County’s road and bridge department is completing the snowplowing on upper Maroon Creek Road this week, so there will be a limited opening of facilities at Maroon Lake, said Aurora Palmer, Maroon Bells program manager for the Forest Service.
“The snowpack is high so there will be limited hiking,” she said. Visitors planning on skiing, snowshoeing or hiking out of the Bells area, and many other parts of the national forest, should be aware that avalanches are still possible in the backcountry.
There will be only a partial opening of bathrooms, and there won’t be any running water at Maroon Lake for the holiday weekend. It was uncertain Tuesday how much parking would be available for the start of the season.
Palmer noted that a good alternative to trying to hike in the national forest in the Aspen area will be skiing on Aspen Mountain on Memorial Day weekend. Aspen Skiing Co. is re-opening mountain-top terrain and firing up the Ajax Express chairlift because the snow conditions are so good.
Palmer said one challenge facing the road crew in Maroon Valley was clearing snow and debris where it was deposited by a major slide in the Stein Meadow area, close to where the road curves and offers a stunning view of the Maroon Bells. The avalanche likely slid in mid-March when conditions started warming, she said, pulling down trees and piling rocks, dirt and snow in the road.
Bus service to the Maroon Bells won’t begin until Saturday, June 18. Vehicles will be asked to pay a $10 fee.
The three campgrounds in Maroon Valley – Silver Bar, Silver Bell and Silver Queen – will be open for Memorial Day weekend.
Numerous other campgrounds in the area are opening for Memorial Day weekend, but the snow is still too deep at a handful, according to Brian Porter, who handles visitor information at the Forest Service’s Aspen office. Difficult Campground just east of Aspen and Chapman Campground up the Fryingpan Valley – two of the largest and most popular campgrounds in the area – will open by the weekend. Higher altitude campgrounds like Weller, Lost Man and Lincoln Gulch, all east of Aspen, likely won’t open until sometime in June. Forest Service crews are still assessing how deep the snow is and how many downed trees must be removed in those campgrounds, Porter said.
Information on what facilities are open can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.
Aspen District Ranger Scott Snelson said forest visitors will have to be patient for the opening of some facilities this spring until more snow melts. Any facility that could be affected by mudslides or avalanches must remain closed, he said.
“We’re monitoring closely,” Snelson said.
Forest Service officials are concerned about the potential for high water and flooding across much of the White River National Forest as the weather warms up. Stream crossings will be precarious well into the season and could change radically during warm days.
Forest Service officials warned that many high-elevation roads and trails are likely to remain closed for some time because of snow conditions. All closures should be respected, the agency said.
The Routt National Forest around Steamboat Springs sent out a statement Tuesday saying no campgrounds will open for the holiday weekend. Buffalo Pass, a popular recreation area, has 16 feet of snow, so it’s attracting snowmobilers and skiers rather than campers and hikers.
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