Snow, crowds greet campers

Sites are scarce, but holiday hiking opportunites abound

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— People who had visions of packing up the tent and heading for the hills to camp this holiday weekend may have to revise their plans.

Much of the Medicine-Bow and the White River national forests still are under several feet of snow, decreasing the availability of camping spots in Routt County, U.S. Forest Service officials said.

And although popular camping destinations such as Stagecoach State Park, Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake state parks typically offer hundreds of camping sites, existing reservations leave few opportunities for visitors or residents who haven't yet booked a site.

As of Thursday night, Stage--coach State Park had nine camping sites available. Four of the sites have electrical outlets. Officials said the sites, which can accommodate a tent or recreational vehicle, are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The marina at Stagecoach Reservoir is open, and although the campground is full, the area boasts well-groomed trails for walking, biking and hiking. Boating and fishing opportunities also abound.

Forest Service ranger Debbie Hunt said the national forest land open for camping is north of Steamboat Springs. Hinman Park in North Routt is open, though only 13 sites are available for the Memorial Day weekend. There are some camp sites along Seedhouse Road, but not many, Hunt said. Both areas operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Camping is not available on Rabbit Ears Pass, Buffalo Pass or at Hahn's Peak Lake.

"Everything is still snowed in," she said.

Steamboat Lake State Park and Pearl Lake are full, officials said.

The Steamboat Lake marina is open for boating. Numerous hiking and walking trails and picnic areas near the lake also are open.

In South Routt, the Blacktail Creek and Bear Lake campsites are open and still had 40 percent of their sites available as of Thursday night. Sarvis Creek and Silver Creek are open for recreational trail users.

Hiking in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, including Devil's Causeway, is nearly impossible because much of the trail still is under several feet of snow. Sheriff's Reservoir also will not be open this weekend.

In the Steamboat area, people can take their pick of hiking trails, including Mad Creek Trail, Spring Creek Trail, trails on Howelsen Hill and Emerald Mountain and limited access on the Fish Creek Falls Trail.

Officials recommend that hikers and campers be prepared for unpredictable weather by bringing maps, compasses, water, food, rain gear, safety kits, sunscreen, sunglasses, insect repellent and flashlights.

Lynn Barclay, who works as a fire mitigation education specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, reminds everyone to be careful with fire and to be aware of sudden changes in wind, which could spread a fire's embers or sparks.

Despite the deep winter snowpack, warm weather during the past couple weeks has steadily increased the fire danger at all elevations.

"When we get lots of moisture, people get lulled into thinking, 'Oh, the fire danger is over.' But in Colorado, conditions change quickly. People always need to be careful with outside fires," she said.

Barclay said people always should carry shovels and buckets and never leave campfires unattended. Other precautions include:

Clear brush and grass within 10 feet of campfires.

Drown campfires with water, cover pits with dirt and ensure the fires are completely out before leaving the area.

Do not park vehicles near tall grasses.

There are no fire restrictions in place in Northwest Colorado for Memorial Day weekend, though Barclay encourages those traveling beyond this area check other regions or parts of the state for fire restrictions.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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