Forest Service expects to see more people in Flat Tops, other trails, after North Routt fire closures |

Forest Service expects to see more people in Flat Tops, other trails, after North Routt fire closures

View from Mandall Pass in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

YAMPA — With closures of popular trails in North Routt County due to the ongoing Morgan Creek Fire, the U.S. Forest Service said Friday it expects to see crowds flock to other area trails.

The U.S. Forest Service closed several popular trails along Seedhouse Road just north of Clark in Routt County in the Zirkel Wilderness, including Gilpin Lake, the Zirkel Circle, Gold Creek Lake, Three Islands Lake, Mica Lake, Mount Zirkel Summit, a section of the Continental Divide Trail and more.

“I imagine there’s going to be a pretty big increase in use,” said John Anarella, recreation program manager for the Forest Service Yampa Ranger District.

Anarella encouraged people using the Flat Tops to be very conscious of protecting the trails, particularly the Devils Causeway Trail, which Anarella said is the most popular in the Flat Tops and has suffered from overuse through the years.

“The trails are in good shape, but you do have impacts of going to the wilderness and being with hundreds of other people,” Anarella said. “That is a high-use area.”

In order to protect against trail decay, Anarella encouraged hikers to wear proper footwear, stay off trails if they are muddy, leave rocks in place and stay on the trail. These measures can help protect trails and ensure they’re still usable each year.

“If you see a trailhead that’s packed, consider taking a different one,” Anarella said.

Forest Service spokesperson Aaron Voos said while the Forest Service does not have quanitifiable data, they are confident anecdotally that trail usage in other areas increases when certain trails close, which Voos said is an unfortunate reality of the uptick in wildfires across the West in recent years.

“Hopefully the public is aware that there are fire closures in place and also aware that there are many other options,” Voos said.

Routt County residents and visitors are likely also familiar with seasonal trail closures due to wildlife migration, which Voos said should make the transition from wildfire closures easier to work around.

“Any short-term closures we put in place are typically for public safety,” Voos said.

While closures may feel like an inconvenience, Voos said they are absolutely necessary, for the safety of firefighters and recreationalists. Much of the area burning underneath the Morgan Creek Fire is remote and difficult to access, and firefighters having to stop and assist recreationalists makes working on the fire even more difficult, Voos said.

Friends of Wilderness President Bob Korch said while some may see the trail closures as a disappointment, he encourages people to use the closures as an opportunity to discover new hiking trails or try a different recreational opportunity.

“Go in with the idea of being open minded to new opportunities, new trails and places that might become a new favorite trail,” Korch said. “Just because there’s a major closure doesn’t mean that we can’t hike at all or try other things.”

Jenny Carey, Steamboat parks, open space and trails supervisor, said while the city does not expect to see a dramatic increase in usage on city trails, as people recreating on Seedhouse trails are likely seeking a similar wilderness experience, city trails are still seeing more visitors each year as Steamboat gains popularity.

“We are seeing an increase in trail use for sure,” Carey said. “But I think if you find those times of day where there aren’t many people, you can sill get up on Emerald and not see many people.”

Carey and Voos both said remembering trail etiquette is vital to keeping trails healthy and safe, as well as not attracting wildlife to heavily populated areas, which can potentially be dangerous.

“As long as people are abiding by (Seven Principles of Leave No Trace) and leaving the forest in the same shape or better shape than it was previously, the forest is resilient to things like wildfires and public use,” Voos said.

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