Friday, May 27, 2005

Sawtooth prepares for holiday visitors

Express Staff Writer

Camping season is here, and the Memorial Day weekend should cement the summer season. Last week, Tom and Sue Markham, along with their dogs, Bud and Miller, stopped at North Fork Campground on their way to Alaska. Photo by David N. Seelig

Across the United States, it's the unofficial beginning of the summer season, but in the mountains of Central Idaho, things are just starting to thaw out on Memorial Day weekend.

Nonetheless, the Sawtooth National Forest has opened a number of recreation sites for the holiday weekend, and the American Automobile Association is predicting that record numbers of Americans will hit the road.

"Since conditions are changing daily, the best advice we can give people for this upcoming weekend is to check with local Forest Service offices for current conditions," said Ed Waldapfel, spokesman for the Sawtooth National Forest.

Sunshine and warming temperatures are rapidly melting snow throughout the lower elevations of the forest, Waldapfel said.

Not all campgrounds and only a few trails are open. Boat ramps at the Sawtooth Valley's morainal lakes will be open.

On north-facing slopes, the snowline is at 7,000 to 8,000 feet, said Sawtooth National Recreation Area spokesman Ed Cannady. It is quite a bit higher on south-facing slopes.

Many trails are open to the snow. The trail to Hell Roaring Lake typically is the first to open in the SNRA, and this year is no exception.

"There are a number of campgrounds available right now and more may open up by this weekend," Waldapfel said. "The other piece of advice we would like to give is for people to bring their own drinking water. While many of our recreation sites will be available, most water systems won't be operational until later in June."

On the Ketchum Ranger District, the Boundary Campground east of Ketchum is open with full services. On the SNRA, Pioneer, Five Points, Canyon, Browns, Baumgartner, Willow Creek, Bird Creek, Chaparral and Abbott campgrounds are open.

Also, forest visitors may encounter frequent slash piles. Forest rangers are working to clean up the debris from spring maintenance—exacerbated this year because of the mountain-pine-beetle outbreak.

"If we didn't take every reasonable measure to eliminate hazardous trees around campsites, we would be liable," Cannady said. For that reason, some roads and campsites are opening later this year than in the average year.

But Cannady reiterated that summer has barely arrived.

"It's early yet," he said. "Memorial Day, in a normal year, we would be telling people they can't get off the highway."

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