Friday, May 16, 2008

Last summerís fires lead to campsite closures on Middle Fork

Forest officials have closed 5 campsites along popular wilderness river

Express Staff Writer

Wildfires that burned along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River last summer have made 16 popular riverside camps unsafe, the U.S. Forest Service has determined.

Kent Fuellenbach, public information officer with the Salmon-Challis National Forest, said the fires left behind burned trees, holes and loosened rocks and soil, which could pose a significant danger to campers, especially if the weather turns nasty.

"If we have a high-intensity weather event, it could cause some problems in those areas," Fuellenbach said. "Forest Service crews will we going through the camps to mitigate the problems."

In an effort to keep the public safe within the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness this summer, floaters will not be allowed to use five camps not considered "reasonably safe" on the Middle Fork. The closures could make for a long first day on the river, as the majority of the impacted camps are located in the first 25 miles of launch sites at Boundary Creek and the Indian Creek Guard Station.

Four of the larger camps that will be closed are Lake Creek (mile 14.9), Johns Camp (mile 15.2), Greyhound (mile 15.9) and Dome Hole (mile 15.9). Horsetail Camp at mile 52.7 will also be closed for the season.

The closures may require boaters to become a little cozier with their floating counterparts on the river.

"We're going to have to do some juggling this summer," Fuellenbach said. "Two small parties might have to share a big camp. People might have to go a long first day, or a short first and long second."

Last summer's Monument Fire was responsible for the damage at the first four camps. In assessing the number of hazards that may have to be mitigated, Salmon-Challis National Forest Supervisor Bill Wood has decided to let the four camps be shaped by natural forces. He will reassess whether they should remain closed next season.

In other local U.S. Forest Service news:

- A colder-than-average spring has kept snowpacks from melting as early as they normally do in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. In the May 12 weekly recreation report from the SNRA, officials said most roads and trails in the 756,000-acre area are still snow covered and muddy. They said that when the forest roads start to melt back from the highway they will be posted with temporary road closure signs to prevent rutting and other damage until the road surfaces become dry enough to support traffic. Signs will be moved to other turnaround points as the roads dry out. The roads are closed to all motorized vehicles, the report states.

"If you do decide to travel on a wet, muddy road and get stuck, the towing cost is very high. The Forest Service does not pull out stuck vehicles," officials warn.

Still, there is some good news for campers. SNRA officials have already opened four campgrounds accessed from Highway 75 along the Salmon River. The four campgrounds—Salmon River, Mormon Bend, Whiskey Flats and Holman Creek—are located downstream from Stanley near popular fishing areas. Early-season conditions mean campers will need to pack out their own trash, officials said.

- Forest officials will no longer allow overnight camping at Goldbug Hot Springs on Warm Springs Creek, according to Salmon-Cobalt District Ranger Kimberly Nelson. The hot springs, located at the end of a two-mile trail in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, is a popular backcountry destination for the thousands of people who visit the site year-round to enjoy the scenic hike and to soak in the natural hot pools. The trailhead is located approximately 25 miles south of Salmon on U.S. Highway 93. According to a Forest Service news release, use of the hot springs has greatly increased during the past decade.

"Goldbug Hot Springs and the trail to it are located in steep and rugged terrain and visitor use is concentrated in the canyon bottom and at the hot spring pools," Nelson said. "With the exception of a compost toilet that is located approximately one mile from the trailhead, there are no public toilet facilities in the area, causing unsanitary conditions at and near the hot springs."

People camping near the hot springs have cleared vegetation and carved out campsites on the small flat spots between the rocks near the springs, forest officials said. They said in some instances, small groups have been able to monopolize the hot springs by camping out for several days.

- Construction planned for Yankee Fork Road: The Salmon-Challis National Forest has contracted with Roadtech Inc. to perform road work on the lower portion of the Yankee Fork Road from milepost 3.1, Pole Flat Camp, to the Yankee Fork Dredge at milepost 8.5. Drivers should expect construction crews and heavy equipment along this section of road for the next four to six weeks, a news release from the forest states. Work will include narrowing of the roadway, installing drainage ditches and crushing the road base using a mobile rock crusher. Expect to encounter single-lane closures and some minor delays.

For additional information about the project, contact Jeff Parker at (208) 756-5161.

Express staff writer Jody Zarkos contributed to this report.

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