Snow storms limit access in Routt National Forest; officials urge public to be prepared | SteamboatToday.com

Snow storms limit access in Routt National Forest; officials urge public to be prepared

Snow covers the unmaintained portion of Routt County Road 38 on Buffalo Pass. U.S. Forest Service officials expect to limit access past the gate to over-the-snow vehicles, such as snowmobiles, as unmaintained roads become increasingly inaccessible.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After almost a week’s worth of storms, some roads and trails in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests have accumulated up to 2 feet of snow as officials warn the public to prepare for adverse travel and recreation conditions.

“Forest visitors should be aware that not all National Forest roads are accessible, and they should plan ahead,” the U.S. Forest Service said in a news release Wednesday evening. 

The advisement comes after Forest Service officials and law enforcement responded to multiple reports of vehicles or people stranded in the snow in recent days.

Just after 10 a.m. Wednesday, Routt County Sheriff’s Office deputies were called about a semitrailer stuck along Forest Service Road 503, an unmaintained road in North Routt. It took several hours for responders, including Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers and a towing company, to free the vehicle. 

“They really just needed the trailer winched back onto the road, so they could continue on their way,” according to Lt. Ryan Adrian with the Sheriff’s Office. 

While there are no specific closures yet, Dry Lake on Buffalo Pass had a snow depth of 17 inches Thursday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service National Water and Climate Center. Rabbit Ears Pass has about 18 inches of snow on its summit. The area near Stillwater Reservoir and the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in South Routt had about 24 inches of snow on Wednesday, according to Amber Cramer, a visitor information specialist with the Yampa Ranger District. 

Aaron Voos, a local public affairs specialist with the Forest Service, said his agency has received “a wide variety” of calls for help in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, ranging from hunters struggling to maneuver through remote areas to travelers surprised to find certain roads unmaintained and inaccessible.

“There were a good number of the public that were caught off guard or weren’t thinking winter would come quite this early,” Voos said.

Cramer added the snow also has accumulated on trees, causing some to fall over roads and trails. She advises people to be especially aware of their surroundings when traveling in forested areas.

“When the wind comes along, they are snapping and dropping,” Cramer said.

The Forest Service does not plow roads within the national forest system, according to Voos. People whose vehicles are stranded on forest roads or who are trying to access unmaintained areas need to get permission from the local Forest Service office before plowing.

In cases that do not involve life-threatening situations, it is the public’s responsibility to retrieve their personal property if it gets stuck or damaged in the national forest, Voos added. 

With so much snow on the ground, some people are taking advantage of winter recreation. While it is permissible to take over-the-snow machines, such as snowmobiles, over designated roads, off-road travel in the Routt National Forest requires at least 12 inches of snow, according to the agency’s policy. 

“If there is a foot of snow on the ground before people go snowmobiling, it can compress down enough where they are not going to be digging down, kicking up dirt and causing resource damage,” Voos explained. 

In the Medicine Bow National Forest, off-road travel is closed to over-the-snow vehicles until Nov. 15. 

Wilderness areas are closed to all motorized vehicles, including snowmobiles.

For specific information about road and trail conditions, contact the local Forest Service office:

  • Hahns Peak-Bears Ears Ranger District, 925 Weiss Drive, Steamboat Springs: 970-870-2299
  • Parks Ranger District, 100 Main Street, Walden: 970-723-2700
  • Yampa Ranger District, 300 Roselawn Ave., Yampa 970-638-4516

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.


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