The 2017-18 winter brought an above-average snowpack to the Bighorn Mountains, but springtime in Wyoming has officially arrived. As we enjoy sunny days mixed with rainy and snowy ones, vegetation is slowly waking up and painting the mountain with splashes of color.
Many of us are yearning to experience the backcountry. For some, it is an annual competition to be the first across our mountain roads and trails. However, it is sometimes best to wait for things to dry out properly.
Annually, the U.S. Forest Service works diligently, within its means, to repair roads and trails for visitors like you to use. Some of that repair work could be avoided if the road or trail had not been damaged from use that occurred too early in the year. When the ground is wet, the risk of soil displacement is higher. Once the soil leaves, ruts or potholes are created, making the road or trail difficult and less enjoyable to use.
Motorized trail and road options are limited this time of year. The Story-Penrose trail #033 out of Story opens to motorized use June 16. The later opening of this trail helps protect mother and calf elk during their first few weeks together when they are most vulnerable.
The Freeze Out Trail #008 is a steep and challenging route for vehicles less than 50 inches in width but tends to open earlier due to its location on the face of the mountain. If you choose to venture out on this trail, be sure to have the appropriate equipment and experience for riding steep mountain trails.
Other access points along the northern face will be opening June 16, such as the roads out of the Kerns and Amsden Wildlife Habitat Management Areas.
As mountain roads begin to open with the snow melt, please resist the temptation to drive off road around the remaining drifts. This can cause severe damage to the land and take years to heal. Scars of this practice are reopened annually and not given a real chance to grow. If the snow prevents you from safely passing, come back and try again in a few days. This may prevent damage to your vehicle, the road and the surrounding landscape. We all love our mountain, let’s work together to keep it healthy and beautiful for all to enjoy.
For more information on the Bighorn National Forest, see the website at www.fs.usda.gov/bighorn, follow the organization on Twitter (@BighornNF) or like it on Facebook (US Forest Service – Bighorn National Forest).
Sara Evans Kirol is a recreation forester with the Bighorn National Forest.