Fire closure lifted on Basalt Mountain but Forest Service warns of risks

Burned skeletons of trees line Basalt Mountain Road. The route will open Friday to non-motorized traffic.
U.S. Forest Service/courtesy photo

The closure of lands on Basalt Mountain in wake of the Lake Christine Fire will be lifted at 12:01 a.m. today for non-motorized travel, the U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday.

The reopening will include Basalt Mountain Road, also known as Forest Road 524, and Cattle Creek Road, also known as Forest Road 509. The parking lot at the junction of those roads will be open starting today, but gates will prohibit motorized travel a short distance past the parking lots. Once winter travel restrictions are in place, the closure will move farther down the road to the regular winter closure gate.

The popular Mill Creek and Cattle Creek trails will also open to foot, horse and mountain bike use Friday, but it will be tough going on the routes and the Forest Service is advising against wandering into those areas.

“During a recent trail evaluation, crews encountered over 60 downed trees across a 1-mile section of the Mill Creek Trail and hundreds of downed trees across a 3-mile section of the Cattle Creek Trail,” Kevin Warner, acting Aspen-Sopris District Ranger, said in a statement.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Warner said the rain and snow over the past 10 days has likely brought down more trees on the roads and trails. The Forest Service is urging extreme caution to anyone using the area because of the threat of falling trees, loose rock and ash pits created when the roots of a tree burn and create a depression that isn’t visible.

The Forest Service is focused this fall on performing emergency work on the roads. Crews are replacing undersized culverts, building check dams and clearing ditches.

“The real issue here is we want to get everything done before a big runoff event,” Warner said.

A trails crew will start the huge task of clearing the Mill Creek and Cattle Creek routes when conditions allow next spring, but the reality is there will be an ongoing issue with burned out trees falling for years, Warner said.

“We don’t have the resources to get up there every week,” he said. “Trees will continue to come down.”

The emergency roadwork is part of the ongoing Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response mitigation. Anyone traveling by foot, bike or horse should be aware they could encounter heavy equipment and damage on the routes. There may also be delays while equipment is working.

The lifting of the closure comes before the start of hunting season. The Forest Service urged hunters to be alert for dangers as they cross burn-scarred forest.

Earlier this fall, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will said the Basalt State Wildlife Area — a sprawling refuge on the lower slopes of Basalt Mountain — probably wouldn’t offer great hunting opportunities this fall and winter. With all the vegetation burned, deer and elk have a greater field of vision, he noted.

The scenario is different on the upper slopes of Basalt Mountain on national forest. There is a mix of terrain that was heavily affected by the fire alongside patches that were little scathed. Warner said it was outside of his area of expertise to evaluate if hunters would be attracted to the mountain this fall.

The Lake Christine Fire burned an estimated 12,566 acres after it roared to life July 3. Three houses were destroyed on the valley floor. Eight cabins in the Upper Cattle Creek drainage were saved by firefighters. The fire was deemed 100 percent contained this week with the steady rain, snow and low temperatures.