Access to popular trails, burn scar open as seasonal closures lift

A herd of elk walk through a damp field south of Steamboat Springs. Some seasonal elk closures are lifting April 16 while others are staying in place.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Mandatory winter elk calving closures lift Friday, giving the public access to popular trails such as Mad Creek and Spring Creek.

Mandatory and voluntary closures were in effect from Dec. 1, 2020, through April 15 in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest area to protect elk habitat.

Now, people may access Spring Creek, Mad Creek, Hot Springs and Red Dirt trails as well as Silver Creek Trail, Sarvis Creek Trail and more.

The Bureau of Land Management’s elk closure on the backside of Emerald Mountain remains in place until June 30. With that closure, everything below the Ridge Trail should not be accessed, including the Beall Trail.

A brochure from the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife states that “recreational disturbance in big game winter range may result in elk and deer herds being pushed out of these areas and into areas of potential conflict, including residential developments, hay fields and highways.”

Abiding by closures helps protect one of the animals that make Colorado and Routt County so special.

With Spring Creek and Mad Creek both opening up, it’s important for the public to know that just because they can use the trails, doesn’t mean they should. Mid-April is the peak of mud season, and leaving ruts in trails can cause permanent damage to the trail and surrounding ecosystem.

Part of trails on Buffalo Pass will also undergo an elk calving closure from May 15 to June 15. Flash of Gold and BTR trails will be closed, but the rest will be accessible.

With the closures lifting, hikers will now have access to part of the Middle Fork burn scar, and they might be surprised by what they see.

The Forest Service has created a burn severity map that shows where the most scorched areas will be. Some areas will look untouched, while others will look black.

As the area becomes more accessible, the Forest Service will get boots on the ground to see if any trail work needs to be done.

The most severely burned areas are shown in red and will be in the center of the fire, where it started, near a cluster of lakes on the Luna Lake Trail. The next most burned area is in the northwest corner of the fire area, along the Swamp Park Trail.

“They’re going to be entering a changed landscape,” said Aaron Voos, public affairs specialist for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland. “There’s going to be a lot of variability within that fire area.”

When hiking in the area, people should be aware of a few post-fire phenomenon and hazards. Trees may be weaker and be at risk of falling or dropping branches during high wind events or while soil is wet. The likelihood of flash flooding increases as well, since the soil may no longer be able to retain rain or snow melt.

“When there’s rain or snow events or just heavy thunderstorms in fire areas, sometimes the soil can’t soak up that moisture like it normally would — that just increases the runoff and increases the possibility of flash flooding,” Voos said. “That’s just something people should keep in mind if they’re down stream.”

Additionally, people can stumble upon sections where the fire burned under the surface and left a pit of ash.

“When you’re walking through a fire area, it may seem like it’s flat, but it may just be ash,” Voos said. “There may be more ash down below it. You could very well step into a pit of ash. That doesn’t happen all over the place, but it’s something to watch out for.”

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.