Steamboat Springs An early spring in the Yampa Valley should add up to early access to mountain campgrounds and hiking trails. However, downed trees across U.S. Forest Service roads and trails, a reservoir repair and a culvert project on the road to Buffalo Pass are conspiring to put the high country on hold.
Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest spokesman Aaron Voos confirmed Friday that Forest Service Road 60 to Summit Lake on Buffalo Pass, which represents the southern gateway to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, is likely to remain closed until the first week in July.
“There’s a blown-out culvert that needs to be repaired,” Voos said.
Recreation Manager Kent Foster, of the Hahn’s Peak Ranger District, said the work on Buffalo Pass Road goes beyond the blown-out culvert at Willow Corner. There will be significant truck traffic during the next three or four weeks as construction crews add additional culverts all the way to Summit Lake and also apply gravel on the lower portion of the road all the way up to the second gate.
Foster said he’s optimistic those improvements can be completed by the Fourth of July.
One exception to the high-country holdouts is in the Flat Tops outside Yampa in the vicinity of Bear Lake and Stillwater Reservoir.
Gail Schisler, of the Yampa Ranger District, said all three campgrounds — Bear Lake, Horseshoe and Cold Springs — are open as are 30 dispersed camping sites along Forest Service Road 900. Formal campsites cost $10 per night, and the dispersed sites cost $5.
Schisler said a hiker came into her office this week to confirm he had made it to the Devil’s Causeway by planting his boots in the footsteps left by others who went before. Schisler did not have a firsthand report on the hike that begins across the Stillwater Dam to Hooper and Keener lakes, but she speculated that a north-facing bowl below that pass that leads to the lakes probably was still thick with snow.
At the northern end of the county, the campgrounds at Steamboat Lake State Park are fully opened, but the snowstorm May 29 followed by 80 mph wind gusts put a damper on the Memorial Day holiday weekend, Jen Meely said.
“We were booked at least 90 percent full, and things were filling up by Friday, but the snow kicked in, and it was pretty cold,” Meely said. “I think some of them just went home.”
It is starting out as a late spring for wildflowers, as well.
Meely said the dramatic yellow flowers of the arrow leaf balsam root plants (many refer to them as mule’s ears) have yet to appear, but the hummingbirds are very busy near the park’s visitor center.
Meely’s colleague Casey Hess rode her bike out Seedhouse Road to the wilderness trailhead at Slavonia this week but did not attempt to hike beyond that point.
However, Foster said tree removal crews have cleared 14 trees from the Gold Creek Trail from Slavonia as high up as the second creek crossing. They left two larger trees up to 24 inches in diameter for another crew with a two-man saw, but the Gold Creek Trail is very close to being ready to hike, he said.
Hess said she also attempted to climb Sand Mountain, but the access road was closed at the gate with a sign saying it would remain so until July 1. Better bets are the Coulton Creek Trail off Seedhouse Road and a hike around Pearl Lake, she said.
She added that beetle-killed tree removal operations are under way at Hahn’s Peak Lake this week.
“It’s not real user-friendly right now,” Hess said.
Foster said the work at Hahn’s Peak Lake is being done by a Department of Corrections crew from Buena Vista.
Foster urged motorists, cyclists and ATV riders to be aware that roadside hazard tree removal also is ongoing this season and said that some forest roads will be subject to rolling closures.
Voos said Dumont Lake on top of Rabbit Ears Pass isn’t a good destination this spring; Dumont Lake was drained in the fall for repairs to the Muddy Creek Dam and remains empty. Camping facilities in the vicinity will be closed until things are cleaned up, he said. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials said in fall 2011 that the repair work would be carried out this year.
Forest Road 311 leading to the 1101 Trail to Fishhook Lake in the vicinity of Dumont Lake also is closed.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com