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Wet holiday? Utahns say weather won't stop them from getting outdoors

SALT LAKE CITY — Travel plans for those hoping to take advantage of Memorial Day’s extended weekend may be hindered by this year’s heavy snowfalls and persistent rain.

U.S. Forest Service officials say a number of popular camping destinations near Salt Lake City will be closed due to unmelted snow and poor site conditions.

“We’ve had such different weather and a lot of the areas are still snowbound,” Kathy Pollock, spokeswoman for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said. Campgrounds in both Big and Little Cottonwood canyons will not be useable for the weekend though the day use areas will be open.

The gate at Tanners Flat Campground in Little Cottonwood Canyon is locked on Wednesday, May 22, 2019.
The gate at Tanners Flat Campground in Little Cottonwood Canyon is locked on Wednesday, May 22, 2019.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“Forest Service individuals have to go in and look at the campgrounds and inspect and see if we have to cut any hazard trees out or remove anything,” she said, adding that once that is done “the concessionaire company gets to go in and do their cleanup to try and get it (the campground) open.”

Pollock noted that neither steps would be completed in time to open campsites in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons for the holiday. The same goes for a number of other campsites in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

Little Mill campground in Pleasant Grove will be open, however Granite Flat campground will be closed due to a rock slide. Meanwhile most campsites in the Spanish Fork area will be open with the exception of Tinney Flat.

Pollock suggested that those hoping to spend time outdoors this weekend opt for more southern locations in the state.

That is just what a number of outdoor enthusiasts from the Salt Lake Valley intend to do.

Craig Williams, who was gearing up at Recreation Outlet, is among those. He said Wednesday when interviewed at the store that he is heading to Moab and its North Klondike trails.

“I’ll be camping in my van and riding bicycles,” said Williams, who noted that his plans for the weekend changed after the Wasatch 360 bike race near Heber City was postponed due to weather conditions.

Some say even the southern regions of Utah may not bring much respite from the elements. Josh Elliot, who was preparing for a trip to Kodachrome Basin State Park, said “for heading down south it’s colder and wetter than usual.”

But the weather would not be putting a damper on his plans, he said. “We’ll freeze and have fun.”

Colin Burdsall, who works for the University of Utah’s outdoor adventure department, said many students feel the same.

“Most of the students that have been coming in have just been accepting the weather and sticking with their plans,” he said in a phone interview, noting that in terms of gear rental, students have opted to rent more wet suits and warmer gear.

Regarding his own weekend plans, Burdsall said “we are planning on going down on the San Rafael River (to raft) and if it rains it rains, if it’s sunny, even better.”

The cold spring has also impacted many popular scenic drives as the Mirror Lake Highway through the High Uintas remains closed, with the Forest Service noting more than 5 feet of snow still at Trial Lake.

“We could be looking at mid- to late June for Mirror Lake Highway (to open), we are going to let those snow levels get to a more manageable level before we get the heavy equipment in and open the routes" said John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation.

Along the Wasatch Front, the Alpine Loop in American Fork and Nebo Loop near Payson also are impassable. Nonetheless, some campsite are accessible nearby.

Gleason said plows were working Thursday to clear Wolf Creek Pass on state Route 35. He noted that the department also hoped to have East Canyon cleared in time for the weekend.

The Forest Service said that due to high snow levels a number of campsites in the Ashley National Forest areas will also be closed.

Whiterocks campground will be the only site open in the Vernal ranger district. Flaming Gorge will have all sites open with the exception of Spirit Lake, which will also be closed due to snow. In Duchesne, Avintaquin and Yellow Pine campgrounds will both be closed.

Most campgrounds in the Fishlake National Forest area will be open with the exception of Kent’s Lake, LeBaron and Anderson Meadow campgrounds in the Beaver Ranger District and Elkhorn campground in the Fremont Ranger District. Most campsites in Manti-LaSal area will also be open.

While Strawberry Creek is mostly clear, some of the roads remain icy and muddy with snow in certain areas, the Forest Service noted in a news release.

Heading north is another option, campsites in the lower elevations in Logan will be open though higher elevations sites such as Tony Grove, Red Banks, and Sunrise will remain closed. Same goes for most sites in the Ogden Ranger District with the exception of Monte Cristo, which remains shut down due to highway closure.

Not everyone is eager to flee the cold lingering in the higher elevations.

“I’m going to go ski Snowbird all weekend, then the desert during the week because Snowbird is closed Monday through Thursday,” said Brad Callister. The outdoor enthusiast said the colder weather has been great because “everyone is scared, less people, more fun.”