Camping will have to be fire-free until late May

The BLM’s Prince Creek Campground near Carbondale will remain closed until at least Memorial Day weekend.
John Stroud/Post Independent

Keep the campfire matches in the matchbox for now, or you just might get a visit from Smokey Bear.

While dispersed camping is currently allowed on the White River National Forest and public lands managed by the area Bureau of Land Management, developed campgrounds will remain closed until at least Memorial Day weekend.

According to agency officials, the extended campgrounds closure is mostly due to the need to get a plan in place to provide restroom facilities that meet public health guidelines related to the coronavirus outbreak.

“This year we are a little delayed, partly because we’re short-staffed,” said Larry Sandoval, Colorado River Valley Field Officer manager for the BLM. “We also need to have toilets that are appropriately cleaned on a regular basis.”

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That means lining up cleaning services and arranging for portable toilets in some locations, including day-use areas, he said.

The only developed BLM campground in the area is located at the Crown Mountain Rec Area along Prince Creek southeast of Carbondale. It had been scheduled to open for its second season May 20, but that likely won’t happen now until Memorial Day weekend, Sandoval said.

The primitive Thompson Creek Campground also is on BLM-administered land, but does not have restrooms. It does have fire rings that can be used during the current fire restrictions, but spaces are very limited.

As for Forest Service campgrounds, they usually don’t open until mid-May anyway. Until they are open, campfires are strictly prohibited under the current Stage 1 fire restrictions.

And, forest and BLM rangers will be out checking some of the more popular camping areas to ensure people are complying.

“That’s a hard one for people to understand,” Sandoval said of the likelihood that the nicer weather will draw more people to the outdoors.

The fire restrictions are more about protecting firefighters during the COVID-19 pandemic than about the current fire danger, he said.

“We want to reduce the potential for fire events that could get out of hand and put our firefighters at risk if we have to put a big crew out there,” Sandoval said.

An unattended campfire that was still smoldering on U.S. Forest Service land in the Thompson Creek area southwest of Carbondale earlier this week touched off a small wildland fire that required ground crews and a helicopter to put out.

While the camping was legal, the campfire was not, White River National Forest spokesman David Boyd said.

As of Friday, the fire was contained and crews were just on patrol status to watch for any flare-ups.

“It’s largely up to users to do the right thing,” Boyd said of the need for people to be responsible and not have campfires in the first place. “In this case, they weren’t supposed to have a fire and, worse yet, they completely left it unattended.”

While conditions are drying and much of the higher-elevation vegetation hasn’t greened up yet, Boyd reiterated that the main reason for the fire restrictions is to keep from spreading emergency resources thin and to protect firefighters during the public health situation.

“People just always need to be alert and aware that there is a fire danger anytime,” he said.

The BLM’s Sandoval added that river access sites in the area, including the one at South Canyon, also have reopened but with limitations. Until a plan for restrooms is in place, there will be no facilities at those sites, he said.

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