Fremont-Winema National Forest managers want to encourage visitors enjoying the outdoors as we transition from winter to summer recreation to stay safe, be prepared and to be aware of regulations.
Springtime weather encourages getting outside for some fresh air. However, there is still the chance for snow and winter weather conditions continue the increased risk for being outdoors – especially in the remote and rugged terrain of Lake and Klamath counties.
In recent weeks, the Forest and area Search and Rescue units have seen an uptick in people getting stuck on Forest Roads. A similar pattern was observed during a break in the weather in December, but warmer weather and sunny days have dramatically increased the number of people in the forest over the past four weeks - Many of whom are not prepared if things go wrong.
As a general rule, when snow depth is six inches or greater, it is not safe to be on a Forest road in a wheeled vehicle. The roads are not plowed or maintained by the Forest during the winter and any plowing done by permittees for projects is inconsistent. During the spring, there is risk of getting stuck associated with any snow-covered road regardless of depth.
Snow on north-facing slopes is the last to break up and presents an ongoing challenge that can result in being stuck. There also continues to be snow and wet weather in the forecast, which is falling on already disintegrating and structurally unsound snow. This hides the true road conditions and increases the likelihood of getting stuck.
On the west side of the Forest, including the Klamath Ranger District, when there is a continuous snow depth of six inches or greater between Nov. 1 and April 30, designated roads in the area become snowmobile and ski trails and are closed to wheeled traffic.
This is formally referenced as Order Number FWF-2014-13-02. Violations of the closure order are punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment of not more than 6 months or both.
Some tips for those enjoying spring on their public lands:
Plan your trip – check the weather, bring plenty of warm clothes, enough water for everyone for three days, emergency food, tire chains, shovel, flashlight, flares and/or something to start a fire with, camp saw or hatchet, and cold weather sleeping bag or blankets.
Make sure you have a full tank of gas when you leave and are prepared for changing conditions in the mountains and high desert! Also, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.
Keep vehicles on designated roads and be aware of changing weather and road conditions. Wet dirt roads can quickly turn to mud, making it possible to get stuck and causing damage to road, soil and water resources.
In snowy conditions, if the snow on the road is three inches or greater, turn around – conditions are not likely to improve ahead.
If there are puddles in the road, mud flipping off the tires or you can see your ruts in the rearview mirror, turn around.
Do not count on technology – GPS can steer drivers onto impassable roads and there is not cellphone service across most of the Forest.
When enjoying a more remote primitive recreation experience in dispersed areas, it’s advised to turn around when road conditions begin to deteriorate and find a safe place to pull over and park to recreate. Pay attention to weather conditions, including increased winds and snowfall to ensure plenty of time to safely head back home.
“The Fremont-Winema is a spectacular forest, but the remoteness and rapidly changing spring weather and conditions brings more risk and things can become deadly,” said Fremont-Winema National Forest Recreation Program Manager Scott Stoffel. “It’s critical to plan your trip, have the right gear, pay attention to conditions and be prepared in case you get stuck and need to spend a longer time out there. We want everyone to have a safe and fun experience.”
For more information on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, visit www.fs.usda.gov/fremont-winema.