Muddy Slide, Morgan Creek fire closure areas reduced; hunters should be cautious of hazard trees, slippery ash

Private property owners east and downstream of the Muddy Slide Fire, located northwest of Lynx Pass, are dealing with debris flow damage.
Natural Resources Conservation Service/Courtesy photo

With hunting season in full swing, officials are cautioning hunters to pay careful attention to hazard trees and slippery ash in and downstream of wildfire burn areas in Routt County.

U.S. Forest Service Routt Zone Hydrologist Liz Schnackenberg, a leader for Burned Area Emergency Response teams for regional wildfires, said hunters should be careful of their surroundings, unstable soils and possible tree falls when parking vehicles, hiking, horseback riding and setting up camp.

Officials encourage hunters to do a bit more homework this year if they have hunting draws near burn areas and to reach out with questions to the local Forest Service or Colorado Parks and Wildlife offices.

“The biggest change, in landscape and vegetation patterns, may be to hunting in the area for the Muddy Slide Fire” in south Routt County, Schnackenberg said.

The closure area for the Muddy Slide Fire, in south Routt County.
Courtesy photo

Brendan Kelly, Forest Service local recreation program manager, said due to recent snowfall, officials updated the Muddy Slide Fire closure area Thursday, and the closure now encompasses only the actual burn perimeter.

Officials reduced the closure area for the Morgan Creek Fire in North Routt County on Friday to the actual fire burn perimeter, meaning Seedhouse Road, also known as Forest Service Road 400, is open to general traffic. An area closure has been in place on the Muddy Slide Fire since June 21 and on the Morgan Creek Fire since July 10.

The closure area for the Morgan Creek Fire, in North Routt County.
Courtesy photo

The only official trails still closed in North Routt include the South Fork and Burn Ridge trails on the south side of Seedhouse Road. The updated fire maps are posted under Alerts & Notices online at

“Muddy Slide had larger areas of high and moderate soil burn severity on steeper slopes uphill and upstream of private land. Once the rains came, there was some increased erosion, runoff and some debris activity,” Schnackenberg said. “There was impact downstream on private land in Morrison Creek with a lot of ash and sediment into creeks and ponds, and, in some cases, it may have diverted the original creek.”

Private property owners east and downstream of the Muddy Slide Fire, located northwest of Lynx Pass, experienced some debris flow damage this summer, said Clinton Whitten, resource team lead for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Steamboat Springs.

He worked with seven private land owners, some of whom have small agricultural operations, where owners shoveled mud and debris out of their irrigation ditches and smaller creeks.

“In the areas with high burn severity, the soils are hydrophobic, so the water runs off similar to a parking lot,” Whitten said. “It’s the watershed above the private land that affects the landowners below, so they can’t do much.”

Whitten said NRCS has funding available through an Emergency Watershed Protection program for private landowners with potential wildfire impacts to infrastructure, such as ditches, fences, ponds and culverts. Rain storms next year will likely bring the potential for the most damage.

Debris flows from the Muddy Slide Fire burn scar in south Routt County clogged some irrigation ditches and small tributaries, with more erosion expected for several years.
Natural Resources Conservation Service/Courtesy photo

“We are advising there is going to be expected large flows and debris for the next couple of years until vegetation gets reestablished. Water is not infiltrating on the high severity burn soils, so even a small storm could potentially turn into a large flow out of the watershed,” Whitten said.

Debris flowing down the watershed stretches a couple of miles, mostly impacting smaller tributaries. The main stem of Morrison Creek “is fairly healthy, has been able to absorb the flows and has stayed fairly clean,” Whitten said.

Multiple trail crews from the Forest Service, Friends of Wilderness, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and Colorado Mountain Club spent three weeks midsummer cutting several hundred trees from trails that were damaged during the Middle Fork Fire in 2020, Kelly said.

Crews also needed to enlarge and add more water bars to trails to increase drainage for burn debris flows. The work was performed on Luna Lake Trail, higher up Mad Creek Trail and on parts of Swamp Park Trail. Some of that work required crews to backpack in long distances and use crosscut hand saws, since it was within the Mount Zirkel Wilderness area.

Kelly said similar tree removal and trail stabilization work is planned for summer 2022 for trails damaged during this year’s Morgan Creek Fire.

Schnackenberg said the worst areas of potential runoff damage for the Morgan Creek Fire are indicated in debris flow prediction maps created by the U.S. Geological Survey. One area that has the potential to muddy waters and increase debris into Elk River is located on the south side of Seedhouse Road just east of the Hinman Creek area.

“It could potentially send a fair amount of mud down the Elk River or create minor dams that could back up some water,” Schnackenberg said. That flash flooding potential is usually associated with summer monsoonal rains that produce more than one-quarter inch in 15 minutes.

Areas that are flatter or with scattered fire damage can recover more easily, but, in general, wildfire damage recovers in three to five years. She said the risk of falling trees and debris flows are greatest immediately after a wildfire, then issues decline with revegetation.

“It’s a general concern or hazard that people don’t always think about post-fire,” Schnackenberg said.

Routt County resident Matt Martinez, owner of Silver Creek Outfitters, said hunters may avoid going into burned areas since big game may not frequent areas with less cover to hide. Animals may frequent the edges of burn areas, Martinez said, and the hunting season starting in 2022 will likely be improved in burn areas with easier movement and plant regrowth.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.