Steamboat Springs The early snowmelt in the mountains of Routt County means residents and visitors should have earlier than usual access to High Country campgrounds.
However, Bear lake Campground, about 11 miles southwest of Yampa, is closed while an expansion and improvement project is undertaken.
Yampa District Ranger Howard Sargent of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest said the road to Bear Lake, above Yamcolo Reservoir, is already open that's about a month earlier than usual. However, campers will need to turn to alternatives in the area.
Bear Lake Campground's 29 sites are closed for the season. Alternative campgrounds in the immediate vicinity include Cold Springs and Horseshoe. The Yampa Ranger District also provides fire rings at numerous dispersed campsites along the Bear River corridor.
The camping provides access to fishing in Yamcolo, Bear Lake and Stillwater reservoirs. There is also hike-in fishing from the Mandall Lakes trailhead.
Sargent said the renovations are being undertaken because of increased demand at Bear Lake. Many Front Range campers access the Flat Tops and Bear Lake via Gore Pass. The Forest Service notified the campground last summer to advise visitors the campground would be closed this summer.
"We're doing our best to notify folks," Sargent said. "I imagine we'll probably surprise a few people."
Sargent is optimistic other camping areas on the Bear River corridor will meet the overflow; but if not, campers could always move to other campgrounds on Gore and Lynx passes, he said.
Sargent said Bear Lake Campground is seeing larger recreational vehicles than in the past. Some of the new campsites will be two or three times larger, accordingly. Those campsites will also accommodate larger family gatherings.
When the renovation is complete, the number of campsite pull-ins will be increased from 29 to 43. But the extra-large sites will effectively double the capacity of the campground.
Other improvements include new picnic tables, which are easier to access for wheelchair users, an improved water system and restrooms.
The completed project is expected to cost between $500,000 and $750,000. Bids have come in, but the contract has not been awarded.
Sargent said the campground is classified as a "recreation fee demo" site. That means an act of Congress allows the Yampa Ranger District to retain 95 percent of the receipts collected at the campground. The revenue goes a long way toward offsetting the cost of maintaining the campground, he said.
The nightly camping fee at Bear lake has been $10 in the past.