Steamboat Springs Wilderness travelers must plan to avoid the popular Slavonia trailhead north of Steamboat Springs Sept. 4-21 while helicopter logging operations are under way.
The Bear's Ears/Hahn's Peak Ranger District of the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest has posted a sign about the closure at the trailhead, where more than 15 cars overflowed the parking lot at midday Saturday. The trail is about 30 miles north of Steamboat Springs at the end of Seedhouse Road (County Road 64/Forest Road 400).
The sign informed hikers, hunters and horseback riders that all vehicles must be removed from the parking lot by the evening of Sept. 3. Cars left in the parking lot will be subject to towing.
Recreation Forester Ed Patalik said his agency wants to make certain there are no people or cars in the area, while a large helicopter carries one to three logs at a time out of the "Downdraft" and "Jet Stream" timber harvest areas.
"It's extremely dangerous for people to be in the Slavonia area while helicopters are dangling logs overhead," Patalik said.
The timber to be harvested is already dead on the ground. It has been there since late fall 1997 when the Routt Divide Blowdown felled thousands of acres of trees in the area.
Most of the blowdown took place in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness. But the timber being harvested is outside the wilderness boundary, Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Pipher said. The helicopter will stack logs in stockpiles for later trucking to a Louisiana Pacific mill in Saratoga, Wyo., where they will be turned into two-by-fours.
Pipher is optimistic the trailhead won't have to remain closed later than Sept. 21. The Forest Service intentionally waited until after Labor Day weekend to close the trailhead.
Slavonia is the primary access for trails to Mica Lake and Mica Basin as well as Gilpin Lake and Gold Creek Lake. The Gilpin/Gold Creek loop is an 11-mile hike that can be covered in a day by intermediate hikers. It allows wilderness visitors to begin and end their days at one parking lot and not traverse the same terrain, as they would during an out-and-back hike.
Pipher said it's important for hikers to realize that next month's closure doesn't just apply to people driving to and parking at the Slavonia trailhead. It also applies to hikers and horseback riders who might desire to begin their wilderness trip at another trailhead and finish up at Slavonia. The trailhead will be closed to those users as well, Pipher said.
Forest Service officials initially thought that timber harvesting associated with the blowdown might be concluded this summer. It now appears that it will continue into next summer, Pipher said.