ST. GEORGE — Most of the developed campgrounds in the U.S. Forest Service’s Dixie National Forest will be opening Friday, just in time for the busy Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Additionally, dispersed campsites, most day-use picnic areas, roads and trails within the forest are also open.
The Yankee Meadow Campground just off Highway 143 outside Parowan remains closed for reconstruction and some group campsites will not be opening until June. A full list of which campgrounds will be available can be found here.
The Dixie National Forest is almost 2 million acres and contains four different districts – the Pine Valley Ranger District, the Cedar City Ranger District, The Powell Ranger District and the Escalante Ranger District.
Within that nearly 2 million acres is a wealth of recreational opportunities, including camping, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, picnicking and more.
But even though there is a lot of space, Dixie National Forest Public Affairs Officer Kevin Abel said they expect the forest to be very busy during Memorial Day weekend as well as throughout the summer, particularly on the Independence Day holiday weekend, Pioneer Day in Utah and Labor Day.
Most of the reservable campsites within the open campgrounds have already been booked for the holiday weekend, Abel said, but added that many of the campgrounds do have a few walk-in sites that are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Future reservations for campgrounds and other accommodations within the Dixie National Forest can be made through recreation.gov.
Nick Glidden, the district ranger for the Pine Valley Ranger District, echoed Abel’s sentiments saying they had already been having a lot of people using the dispersed camping sites within the district, a surge he attributed to people’s desire to get out and recreate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He expects the surge to continue into the holiday weekend and fill the developed campsites to near capacity.
“If they are well-known places, they are going to be full,” Glidden said.
With that in mind, Glidden encouraged recreationists to think ahead when traveling to the national forest and to have alternate plans, including taking advantage of the many day-use sites for picnics, if they are unable to secure a campsite.
“Even folks who can’t get a campsite we welcome to come up and use the area for day use,” Glidden said, adding that all trails are open and they encourage people to enjoy them.
Though many recreation areas in Utah, including state and national parks have seen closures or partial closures, as well as openings with limited services because of COVID-19, Abel said the campground openings are happening right on schedule.
“This year is really no different opening than any other year,” Abel said. “We’re opening on schedule.”
With that said, Glidden stressed that their opening has been influenced by COVID-19 in that they are taking extra precautions to keep their staff safe and their facilities clean and healthy for guests.
Glidden said concessionaires that operate the campgrounds under a special use permit from the Dixie National Forest are cleaning restroom facilities multiple times a day.
The story is the same for campgrounds such as Oak Grove in the Pine Valley Ranger District which is operated by the Forest Service.
The Pine Valley Guard Station, which will also be opening for reservations, will have additional guidelines put in place in order for proper cleaning and sanitizing of the facility to take place, Glidden said.
Visitors who wish to reserve the guard station must stay a minimum of three nights and a maximum of five nights, he said.
“We have increased all our cleaning regiments,” Glidden said. “Our top priority is to protect people.”
Both Glidden and Abel said that busy recreation areas, especially in the day of COVID-19 are generally regarded as a positive.
“Being outdoors and recreating is healthy, it’s good for us,” Glidden said, with the caveat that they are still following the health guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local health agencies.
What that looks like in terms of campgrounds is something that, Abel said will be up to the concessionaires who manage the campgrounds on a day-to-day basis.
In terms of recreating in the Dixie National Forest, Abel and Glidden encouraged visitors to follow proper social distancing and hygiene, as well as to tread lightly on forest roads and trails and pack out everything that is packed in.
Additionally, information on the Dixie National Forest website discourages visitors from engaging in high-risk behaviors that could tax search and rescue and law enforcement personnel.
“The Dixie National Forest asks the public to please recreate responsibly,” the website said.
And that is just what Abel said he expects to see of visitors.
“I expect that the forest will be very busy and there will be people out enjoying recreation responsibly,” he said.
There are currently no fire restrictions listed for Utah, but Glidden said that they are reminding visitors to follow what he called the “Smokey,” or Smokey the Bear, guidelines, and drown out their fires with water, stir the water into the coals and make sure wood and coals are cool to the touch before leaving.
Glidden said abandoned campfires have been an issue in the past and without trying to sound too heavy-handed, he said campers can be issued a citation for abandoning a fire that is still flaming, smoking or warm. Additional penalties can be applied for human-caused wildfires, as well.
“It’s just not worth it to anyone,” Glidden said.
Abel said Forest Service management personnel work closely with the state fire marshal and local fire agencies to determine whether fire restrictions are necessary. However, even if fire restrictions are put in place, that doesn’t mean the campgrounds are closed, Abel said.
As people head to the Dixie National Forest to camp and recreate Memorial weekend and throughout the summer, up-to-date information, including downloadable trail and forest road maps, possible fire restrictions, any road, trail or facility closure and more will be available online or by calling the ranger district where visitors plan to recreate.
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