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Packed trails, campsites increase danger risk over holiday weekend

pole canyon fire and residents - kutv (2).PNG
Crews battle a fire in Pole Canyon on the south side of Utah County during the 2020 fire season.{ }

Official from the U.S. Forest Service said they expect packed trails and campsites in Utah over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

With an increase in people recreating outdoors, certain dangers increase, as well.

Forest Service district ranger Luke Decker from the Spanish Fork District said on crowded days, parking lots fill up, and many people break the rules and park on the roads.

He said that blocks the way for emergency vehicles, like fire trucks and ambulances.

One of the most widespread issues has been people leaving trash behind.

“We had several bear issues, even in our campgrounds and day use areas, where folks started piling their trash around the trash cans, so the bears come in,” Decker said.

Wildlife crews then have to remove the bears and give them another chance in a different area.

Another thing to keep in mind if you’re camping this season, he said, is to stick to the designated areas. Decker said people often push campsites beyond the boundaries, compacting more vegetation.

Fire danger was one of the biggest concerns of the weekend and all summer.

Drought conditions have compounded on the previous year, causing dangerously dry forests, and low lake levels – and impacting recreation, wildlife, and fire danger.

"Fishing is awesome,” said Patricia Messer. "The feeling you get when you're a little kid, it lasts ‘til you're old."

Patricia Messer went into Payson Canyon with her family and friends to celebrate her 70th birthday.

She arrived to find the water levels extremely low.

"When we first came, we thought, ‘Oh it's so bad there's probably no fish in there,’” she said.

Officials said in dry conditions, extra precautions have to be taken — including a restriction on exploding targets.

“Over a thousand acres (burned) that we had last year were shooting fires in my area,” Decker said.

He said fireworks are also not allowed, and more strict regulations could be put in place as the summer continues. Forest Service rangers were expected to be out in force over the weekend, and all season, enforcing the rules.

“The enforcement is generally fines, to start out,” Decker said. “There are other avenues that can be taken if necessary, but we usually start with education and fines.”

The fines can start from around $150 to $250, and could escalate to a mandatory court appearance.

The large burn scar in the canyon from a 2018 fire was a constant reminder of the damage a wildfire can do. Messer said most people love and respect the outdoors, but some people without experience make mistakes.

"I think there's newbies that don't know how to put out a fire with water,” she said.

Decker agreed but said even people experienced in the outdoors leave fires unattended, which could lead to tickets.

“Most people would just come in here, you see your water bottles, and they'll just dump a water bottle on it and call it good,” he said.

That might knock out the initial flames, but Decker said the embers and coals can continue burning. He advised campers start with dumping water, but keep going.

"Rub some dirt, get some mud going, get some dirt in there. You want to expose the embers underneath,” he said.

Despite the dry conditions and low water levels, Utahns can still have fun outside, and even catch some fish.

Whether people go out camping, hiking, or fishing, the Forest Service has asked recreators to leave nature better than they found it.