PENDLETON — The snow is receding, and many people are excited to get outside and explore the Umatilla National Forest. Though snow may have thawed from the foothills, weather conditions can be dynamic this time of year and Forest officials caution visitors that most forest roads are still not accessible due to mud or snow. In addition, traveling on thawing, saturated, and muddy roads can result in resource damage and serious safety concerns, especially if visitors are unprepared.
“We typically see incidents this time of year where families head up for the day, get stuck, and end up spending the night or making a very long hike out to look for help,” said Shane Dittlinger, Recreation Program Manager for the Umatilla National Forest.
This can become a serious situation quickly, particularly if travelers are not prepared for the elements. Many places in the Blue Mountains have limited or no cell phone coverage, so forest visitors should always be prepared to spend the night in the forest with warm clothing, food, and plenty of water.
Public safety is not the only concern this time of year. Forest officials are encouraging visitors to minimize impacts to natural resources from travel on roads that are susceptible to rutting due to warmer weather and melting snowpack.
“Forest roads are not constructed to be all-weather roads, so they can be easily damaged when wet, especially during the spring season,” said Shaun Oliver, Umatilla National Forest Engineer. “Tire ruts that are just an inch deep can leave lasting impressions that only grow with rain and erosion.”
A small portion of National Forest visitors are looking for ‘mudding’ or ‘mud-bogging’ opportunities. However, it is illegal to operate a vehicle on or off-road in a manner that damages or unreasonably disturbs land and vegetation. Please report resource damage if you see it.
Forest officials remind users that some roads remain seasonally closed for wildlife or resource concerns despite early access. Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) display the open and seasonally open road system on the Umatilla National Forest. MVUMs are free and can be picked up at any Umatilla National Forest office or downloaded from the Forest website. Cross-country travel is prohibited under the Umatilla National Forest’s travel management plan.
“We encourage forest users to responsibly enjoy their National Forest roads and trails. This will not only avoid further damage of the resources, but also ensure that there are future riding opportunities across the Forest,” said Eric Watrud, Umatilla National Forest Supervisor.
In addition, some roads and trails are closed in areas with significant flood damage from the 2020 February and May flood events. Detailed closure maps and updates on flood repair activities are available on the Forest website and at any Forest office. Closure signs will also be posted on the ground.