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Snowfall Greets Western Campers-Closure Update

May 27, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Ski resorts are bustling with activity. A key highway into Yellowstone is closed because parts of the road have seen more than 25 feet of snow. And campgrounds are feverishly removing snow from campsites to clear the way for visitors.

Welcome to Memorial Day weekend in much of the West, the Associated Press reported.

The traditional kickoff of the summer season will have a decidedly wintry feel in the Rocky Mountains, as well as California’s Sierra Nevada, because of a lingering record snowfall.

Epic snowpack in parts of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and California is forcing many tourists to abandon the annual rites of launching their summer holidays with a camping trip. Others plan to take advantage of prolonged skiing and showshoeing this strange spring.

In Denver, Brooke Schmidgall had her sights set on high-country camping this weekend as she shopped for gear at a sporting goods store.

“I’ll bring my snowshoes,” she said. “We have a big family tent. It will be nice and warm.”

Rocky Mountain National Park’s popular Trail Ridge Road is closed because of 17-foot snow drifts. Normally, holiday motorists can cruise at altitudes surpassing 11,000 feet but not this year.

Janelle Smith, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain region, recommended that campers consider heading to lower elevations — like Arizona or New Mexico. Campers in Idaho were being warned to check first before heading to camping areas — or risk being turned back by lingering drifts or muddy, impassable roads.

In Oregon, some resorts were still trying to dig out cabins — let alone campgrounds — from snowpack.

Yellowstone National Park has just one campground open. “We’re telling people to be prepared for snow,” said park spokesman Al Nash

In other parts of Wyoming, officials have extended winter closures of wildlife management areas to campers. The reason: To protect wildlife from humans because animals are still searching for food at lower elevations.

The Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center is fully staffed to warn outdoors enthusiasts.

“May snow depths are deeper than anything we have seen in the last 45 years,” said avalanche center spokesman Bob Comey.

In California, a historic Sierra Nevada snowpack is making Yosemite National Park’s springtime cascading waterfalls especially beautiful — and dangerous, with several accidental drownings already of people who failed to keep away from thundering waterfalls and swollen creeks and rivers.

But snow has kept rangers from installing a cable railing that helps hikers maintain their footing at Yosemite’s iconic Half Dome. Anyone holding one of the allocated permits to climb will be out of luck this weekend.

“That was the caveat when people signed up — you may be out of luck depending on the snowmelt,” park spokesman Scott Gediman said.

Park officials instituted the permit system last year to limit traffic to 400 people a day. Best guess is that the Half Dome route could be open by June 5, Gediman said.

Farther north, some popular campgrounds in Tahoe National Forest aren’t expected to open for several weeks.

“We’re still selling backpacks, because people are still geared up for the season,” said Jeff Dostie, a clerk at Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City, Calif. “But they’re buying for the future, they’re not buying for today.”

While the snow is bad for some campers, it’s great for skiers in Colorado and elsewhere. Aspen is reopening 136 acres of trails for skiing this weekend, and Arapahoe Basin has extended its closing dates beyond June 5.

“We’re getting amazing ski traffic for this time of year because of this snowpack,” Dostie said of the conditions in the Lake Tahoe region along the California-Nevada border.

But for Idaho’s Lookout Ski and Recreation Area, the recent flurries must seem like a lost opportunity. The resort near the Montana line has been closed since April.

“Insane weather! Snowing like crazy here,” Lookout’s Twitter feed said Thursday afternoon.

The nation’s media reported these latest updates on the status of public and private campgrounds across the U.S. as Memorial Day weekend approaches:

KENTUCKY

Severe storms moved across Land Between the Lakes once again Wednesday night (May 25).

As a result of the strong winds and pelting rain and hail, Forest Service staff members are assessing widespread damage to roads, campgrounds, and facilities, the Journal-Enterprise reported.

While most backcountry areas and campgrounds remain open, Redd Hollow Backcountry Area and Rushing Creek Campground will not be open for Memorial Day Weekend, due to extensive storm damage.

As of 8 a.m. Thursday, access to Energy Lake Campground is available from the north entrance on Road 134 only. Currently, there are downed trees and power lines blocking Road 134 off US68/KY80 (south entrance). Several areas of LBL are without power at this time. Utility crews are working to restore power to these areas as quickly as possible, once residential and business areas in the surrounding communities have been restored.

IDAHO

The Cascade District Ranger on Thursday announced a public safety closure effective immediately of the Yellow Pine and Golden Gate campgrounds located within the Boise National Forest, near Yellow Pine, Idaho, KIVI-TV, Boise, reported.

Trees in these campgrounds have been attacked by the Douglas fir beetle which has killed many trees and stressed others. The campgrounds will remain closed until the trees can be removed to reduce the potential falling hazards to the public.

“The District is working hard to deal with the affected trees and we will do our best to have the campgrounds open as soon as possible,” said Bill Rice, the new Cascade District Ranger.

Nearby-open campgrounds include Ice Hole, Buck Mountain, and Trout Creek. Rice added there are also many opportunities for more primitive non-developed site camping along the Johnson Creek Road.

Campground risk assessments completed this spring identified over 100 hazardous trees.

WASHINGTON

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission closed the campground at Kopachuck State Park near Gig Harbor this week because some of the trees are dying and could fall on someone, the Kitsap Sun reported. The campground won’t be available for the Memorial Day weekend, but the day-use area, including the beach, will remain open.Park staff noticed a gradual but growing pattern of dying trees in the campground and called in experts from the Department of Natural Resources to help determine the extent of the problem and treatment options.

Laminated root rot has been found throughout the campground and adjacent forest. It can cause trees to fail with little or no warning, posing a risk to visitors, staff and facilities. The root rot must be treated now to prevent trees from rapidly succumbing to it.

The campground will remain closed until assessments can be completed and any necessary corrective action is taken.

OKLAHOMA

Several campgrounds will be closed this weekend because of high water, including Peyton’s Place in Tahlequah, but river floating and rafting will remain open, the Oklahoma City Oklahoman reported.

Archie Peyton, owner of Peyton’s Place, has been in business since 1968.

“We are open. We’re going to be running,” he said. “It just won’t be 100%. But we’re going to put people on the water if they show.”

Fite said debris in the water will pose navigational hazards to floaters, and Peyton said rafting over the holiday could be limited to adults.

“Historically, this is one of our biggest camping weekends,” Peyton said. “But it will be more of a one-day excursion this year.”

Ross Adkins, spokesman for the Tulsa office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said most federally run lakes in the state are in good shape.

But Tenkiller Lake isn’t among them.

The lake was forecast to be 16 feet above normal Friday. Campgrounds at Pettit Bay and Strayhorn Landing are open, as are some sites at Snake Creek, Chicken Creek and Elk Creek, Adkins said.

Cherokee Landing State Park at Tenkiller Lake is closed, Blair said.

“A lot of the sites will not have electricity,” Adkins said. “The only boat ramp that will be open is the ramp at Snake Creek. That could change depending on what happens between now and the weekend.”

The majority of facilities are open at Oologah Lake, which was about five feet above normal Thursday, according to the corps.

The rapidly rising water level at Fort Gibson Lake, which was about 15 feet above normal Thursday, has flooded many campsites there, according to the corps.

All nonreservable sites at that lake will be closed for the Memorial Day weekend. Reserved sites affected by the rising lake level will be canceled, and customers will receive a full refund, the corps said.

At Grand Lake State Park, areas closed because of high water include the Bernice, Cherokee-Riverside and Grand Cherokee campgrounds, Twin Bridges-Lower camping areas and boat ramp, Spavinaw and Snowdale, Blair said.

Most of Oklahoma’s state park lodges and cabins are booked for the Memorial Day weekend, but a few rooms remain available at Western Hills Guest Ranch at Sequoyah State Park near Wagoner.

People who plan to visit any of Oklahoma’s state parks during the holiday weekend should check the Oklahoma State Parks website or Facebook page for daily updates on closures and conditions.

Tent and recreational vehicle camping is first-come, first-served; reservations are not taken at state parks. The base camping fee is $12 per night; utilities are extra.

Boating will not be allowed on Canton Lake through the Memorial Day weekend because the lake is full of debris from Tuesday’s tornado.

“We are telling people to stay off the water,” said Tim Coffey, park ranger at Canton Lake.

“We have closed off the boat ramps.”

Two Canton Lake campgrounds – Canadian and Longdale – will be closed through the weekend.

The lake and dam were not damaged, but the tornado flung tree stumps, mobile home debris and boat parts into the water, said Ross Adkins, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Tulsa.

The Big Bend and Sandy Cove campgrounds will be open, but the swim beach area at Sandy Cove at Canton Lake will be closed because of debris washing up on the shoreline.

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