Trail and Road Closures due to the Westfork Fire
As of Monday, August 26, 2013, all closures related to the West Fork Fire on the San Juan National Forest have been rescinded. This means the portion of the Weminuche Wilderness on the Pagosa Ranger District is now open; however, the public is warned that travel in the burned area may be hazardous. Conditions on the West Fork Trail, popular for access to Rainbow Hot Springs, are especially unsafe due to standing and downed trees, rolling debris and mud flows.
“We sent in a reconnaissance crew last week in an attempt to assess the extent of the damage, but they had to turn back two and a half miles up the trail because it was basically impassable,” said Paul Blackman, Pagosa Recreation Staff. “We are not recommending that the public attempt to use the West Fork Trail by foot or horseback at this time.”
Although travel into backcountry Wilderness locations always carries with it some risk, the public should carefully weigh the added dangers of falling trees and flash floods before making the decision to enter these areas. Burned trees are very unstable, and entire trees or sections of trees can fall without warning. This danger is exacerbated during windy conditions.
In addition, due to the loss of vegetation, rain does not sink into the ground as quickly, and the soil is more erodible. This increases the risk of flash floods and debris flows during high intensity rain storms. Visitors should avoid narrow canyons during times of possible flash flooding and move up, not out of, canyons during flash floods.
Given the extremely hazardous conditions, the Pagosa Ranger District will defer efforts to clear and repair the trail until next summer, after conditions on the ground have become less volatile.
For more information, contact the Pagosa Ranger District at 970-264-2268.
The Rio Grande National Forest opened most of the West Fork and Papoose burned areas to public access on Friday, August 23. Forest Service Road 525 (Gold Bar Road) and River Hill Campground will continue to be closed for public safety. FSR 410 (to Big Meadows Campground) will be open only for through traffic; camping, hiking, parking and fishing are prohibited along this section.
People wishing to visit the burned areas should fully understand the added safety risks of falling trees and flash floods before making the decision to enter these areas.
• Burned trees may be very unstable. Entire trees or sections of trees may fall without warning. Avoid the burned forest when it is windy.
• Due to the loss of vegetation, rain does not sink into the ground as quickly and the soil is more erodible. This increases the risk of flash floods and debris flows during high intensity rain storms. Do not hike in narrow canyons during times of possible flash flooding. Move up not out during flash floods.
• Carry a saw or ax when driving in the burned areas. Trees may fall at any time and block the road.
• The Forest Service is constructing water bars and cleaning ditches and culverts to improve drainage on the roads within and below the burned areas. High clearance vehicles are recommended for travel on these roads.
For more information about access to the burned areas, contact the Rio Grande National Forest at 719-852-5941.