Routt County Buffalo Pass Road, one of the most accessible gateways to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, is open early this summer.
Denise Germann, public affairs officer with the Bears Ears/Hahns Peak Ranger District, said the Buffalo Pass Road opened to the summit on Saturday. Typically, she said, the road does not open until July 4 or after.
"We didn't anticipate it," Germann said. "Everybody's been calling about it."
Germann said as late as midday on Friday, the information office at the ranger district was saying the road was still closed at the second gate. But a crew that came down from the pass late in the afternoon said the road was ready for vehicular traffic. By midday on Saturday, there were 10 cars in the parking lot at the trailhead, and there were campers at Summit Lake.
Cap Kuney, a range technician with the Forest Service, said the opening date of the road can vary by as much as 30 days from year to year.
"The earliest I've been up the road (in a truck and not a snowmobile) is June 1, after a very dry winter," Kuney said. "The latest is July 15."
The base of the Buffalo Pass Road is about two miles from the Steamboat city limits. The road continues 11 miles to the top of the pass before dropping into North Park on the east side of the Continental Divide. The southern boundary of the wilderness area is just a few hundred yards north of the road, along the Continental Divide Trail.
"You still can't drive over the top to the Walden side," German said. The road to Fish Creek Reservoir, from Summit Lake also remains closed because of snowbanks that stretch across the road.
Germann said hikers, anglers and campers shouldn't be misled by the lingering snow there is much less than usual at this date and the simple fact that the road is open in June points to low moisture conditions, she said.
Local hiker Murray Selleck agreed.
"It's good news and bad news," Selleck said. "We're hurting for water. We owe it all to that hot, dry May."
Germann reminded forest users that an open fire ban is in place in Routt County. Outside of formal campground fire rings, campers and hikers are limited to cooking on stoves and charcoal grills with covers, she said. Fireworks are always banned in the National Forest, regardless of moisture conditions.
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