Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Few changes planned for burn-area openings

Cow/Mahoney/Lodgepole trails to open this month

Express Staff Writer

Most of the area closed to public access after the Beaver Creek Fire will remain closed this summer. The area ranges from Croy Canyon north to Baker Creek. Most of the BLM land burned in Croy Canyon also remains closed.
Map courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

    Winter weather was not kind to roads and trails in the Beaver Creek Fire burn area, and federal land managers say most of that area will remain closed to recreational use for at least another year.
    An exception is the Cow/Lodgepole/Mahoney Creek trail system in the Greenhorn Gulch drainage, where volunteers with the Wood River Bike Coalition have been working diligently for the past three Wednesdays. During a public information meeting at the Community Campus in Hailey on Monday, Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said he expects those trails to be opened by Memorial Day weekend.
    “The volunteer effort has been fabulous,” he said.
    Nelson said the district’s priority this spring and summer will be to rehabilitate trails connecting that area to Red Warrior Creek and the South Fork of Warm Springs Creek and get those open as soon as possible.
    Otherwise, he said, most of last fall’s closure area will remain intact.
    “We’re trying to balance community needs with public safety and a great concern for the resource,” he said. “I’m hoping to get these closed areas reduced over the summer as much as we can.”
    Nelson said the district might open some areas to cross-country travel, especially for hunting season, even though trails in those areas remain too fragile to use.
    Particularly hard-hit over the winter was the Deer Creek drainage, where Nelson said all the side drainages had experienced “severe watershed events.”
    “The higher-elevation side drainages, where it burned very hot, are unloading and picking up more sediment as they go down and sliding out onto the flat areas,” he said. “The scour action is pretty significant. They’re 6 to 8 feet deep and are seeing tremendous amounts of debris.”
    Nelson said that in several places, those slides have pushed Deer Creek out into the center of the valley and it is now flowing down the road. He said it’s a “pretty safe bet” that upper Deer Creek won’t be open this year, but he said the road may be opened as far as Wolftone Creek this summer.
    Nelson said two debris flows are blocking Baker Creek Road past the junction with the East Fork. He said Forest Service workers will need to clear those with heavy equipment before that section of road can be opened. He said the East Fork road will be opened as the snow melts.
    John Kurtz, recreation planner with the BLM’s Shoshone office, told the 30 or so people attending the meeting that closures on the Two Dog and Lamb’s Gulch Trail areas, off Democrat Gulch Road in Croy Canyon, will also remain in place this summer.
    “The big thing is to stabilize some of these hillsides,” he said. “There’s not much holding things back.”
    The community learned that lesson in September, when mudslides triggered by heavy rains covered parts of the roads in Croy Canyon and Deer Creek, and severely damaged homes in Greenhorn Gulch.
    “A lot of this depends on what happens over the next six months,” Kurtz said. “We may be faced with another catastrophic event. We’re going to see how the rehabilitation projects take before we get too far ahead of ourselves. Next spring may even be too soon.”
    Kurtz said another issue in Croy Canyon is the spread of invasive weeds, which take root more readily in burned-over areas than do native plants. He said he’s particularly concerned about cheatgrass, whose seeds are easily spread by hikers, mountain bikes and motor-vehicle tires, and which creates far more flammable range conditions.
    “It is a really big deal,” he said.
    Ketchum Ranger District Trails Coordinator Renee Catherine said results of a five-day, $1.6 million aerial seeding project carried out in November are already apparent. She said long, green grass is growing where the seeds were dropped in Greenhorn Gulch, Imperial Gulch and Deer Creek.
    “The grass is really coming in lush and it’s doing so much to stabilize things,” she said.
    Nelson said the project will continue from May 13-22 in Curran Gulch in the Deer Creek drainage and Alden and Badger gulches in the Warm Springs drainage.
    Wood River Bike Coalition Executive Director Brett Stevenson said the volunteer trail construction work in the Cow Creek area will continue through May 21, on Wednesdays from 5:30-7:30 p.m. After that, she said, work nights will be switched to Mondays, and projects in June will probably include Pioneer Cabin trail improvements and kiosk construction at the Greenhorn, Adams Gulch and Fox Creek trailheads. Grants to help fund those projects were awarded before the Beaver Creek Fire. The lightning-caused wildfire burned more than 111,000 acres of land on the west side of the Wood River Valley last August.

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