It’s Memorial Day weekend, which is normally the start of many people heading up canyons and to the mountains to camp.
Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, many people have been trying to get away and get some fresh air for more than a month now. Campsites have sprung up in most canyons around the valley.
Official campsites in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest recently opened on May 15. Forest Service officials have also taken note of how fast they have filled up.
“We normally don’t see this many people, like we are seeing right now, until July,” said David Ashby, who is the recreation manager for the Logan and Ogden Ranger Districts. “Folks can’t go to the movie theater or restaurants, at least not very easily. With everything shut down and the public information saying go outside, what are they going to do? Go outside, right?”
That seems to be correct.
Lower elevation campsites are open, while more will open June 1 and the highest elevation ones on June 15. There is still plenty of snow in the mountains surrounding Cache Valley.
“We have some gates that will be opening on June 1 leading into higher elevation areas like Temple Fork, Herd Hollow, Cowley Canyon on the Right Hand Fork side.,” Ashby said. “Even if the road is open, if it is muddy and wet, we would really prefer folks stay off of it because they just tear it up. Then we have to spend money fixing it that we could spend on something else.”
With so many people out camping and recreating earlier than usual, there are dangers to be aware of. Rivers and even streams are running high this time of year.
“As far as the rivers go, stay away from the river,” Ashby said. “It’s running high and fast. If you are not super qualified and super careful, you will get washed away. We do have a few kayakers that are pretty hardcore and throw in, but we encourage folks to stay away from the river.”
All campsites in Smithfield, Spring, Preston Valley, Wood Camp and Lodge campgrounds will be first come, first serve. Campsites in Friendship, Guinavah, Spring Hollow and Box Elder campgrounds are all currently reserved for the Memorial Day weekend.
While the National Forest is open, recreation services at some of facilities may be changed, suspended or offered through alternate approaches due to COVID-19. The concern for the safety of the National Forest work force and the public are being addressed in any changes that may occur.
The Forest Service website stated: “Please be aware that some facilities, including restrooms, may be closed or cleaned and stocked on a reduced scheduled. Visitors should practice “Pack-in, Pack-it-out” when recreating on the Forest. Visitors to our National Forests are urged to take the precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) including social distancing.”
As far as trails, ones on south-facing slopes become free of snow and dry out faster, as do lower-elevation trails. The further up the canyon you go, expect snow and possible debris from the winter. Trees fall from heavy snow or wind and can make for an extra obstacle. The Forest Service is about to start checking trails and clearing trees that have become obstacles.
“Honestly, the public helps us with that,” Ashby said. “Officially, we’re supposed to clear the trails, but if somebody comes by and a tree is down and they cut it out of the way, it happens. We know it happens.
“All of our seasonal employees are just getting started right now for like the trail crew. They will clear trees off the trails. It’s good when people call us and tell us about trees down, then we will do our best to go out and get them.”
Volunteer groups can be valuable to help maintain and do brush work on trails. However, with the current social distancing still in affect, large groups of people are not being allowed. Also, chainsaws in the forest are not allowed unless you have had specific training.
“It’s great if a small group and especially if a family group wants to go out and do some trail work because they have already been together,” Ashby said.
A portion of the Riverside Nature Trail is closed for health and safety concerns. A rockfall has damaged the board walk and trail. With concerns about continued rocks falling, the public has been asked to stay out of the area until the issue can be mitigated and repairs can be made. The portion of the trail that is closed is between the Guinavah-Malibu Campground and Spring Hollow Campground.
The first three miles of the Tony Grove road is clear of snow. Wheeled vehicles can now get to the first overlook. As of Wednesday, there was still 40 inches of snow at the observation site at Tony Grove, Ashby said.