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U.S. Forest Service prepares for a dry and busy summer

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The Mirror Lake Highway opens for the summer soon. What can visitors expect this year?

1 million people visit the Mirror Lake Highway in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest each year. Get details on the summer opening and what visitors can expect in the forest this year.

The Mirror Lake Highway from Kamas to the Wyoming border usually opens by Memorial Day each year.

David Whittekiend is the forest supervisor for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and said while the road isn’t open yet, he’s working with the Utah Department of Transportation to get it open by the holiday weekend.

Once the road is open, people parking and utilizing trailheads and campgrounds along the highway will have to buy day passes or risk getting fined. A three-day pass costs $6 at the Forest Service visitor information station on Center Street in Kamas or along US 40 in Heber. The station on Mirror Lake Highway is no longer in use.

Whittekiend said season passes are also available for $40. An America The Beautiful pass is $80 and adds on national parks access. He says the money gathered for the forest goes right back into it.

“The money that is collected on the Mirror Lake Highway stays there," Whittekiend said. "Even the America the Beautiful passes that we sell in our offices, a percentage of that money is retained on the forest. We also will use that money to match grants and we also work with the state on grooming the Mirror Lake Highway, so some of those fees go to maintaining the sites that people have access to during the winter for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.”

Whittekiend said the Forest Service is also wrapping up its renovation of the Crystal Lake Trailhead this spring.

“That should be completed this summer, and that will give people better access to that area," he said. "In addition, unfortunately, search and rescue operations are an occasional fact out there and having a better site for that will ideally improve the response and the ability to put search and rescue out in the forest.”

The first dedicated mountain bike trail in the forest also opened last summer with the five-mike Slate Creek trail loop. Whittekiend said the Forest Service and local partners are exploring additional biking opportunities in the future, including more mountain bike trails directly off of Mirror Lake Highway.

But that’s easier said than done - Whittekind said the rough terrain found throughout most of the forest presents a challenge when it comes to expanding bike trails.

“We’re trying to find more opportunities within the funding that we get, and the partners that we have to expand recreation access," he said. "Mountain biking has exploded throughout Utah and throughout the west, and we’re looking for the kind of terrain that is really favorable for mountain biking. Some of our country is pretty steep and is not as accommodating for mountain bikes, but where we can, we’re looking for opportunities to do that.”

In addition to trail improvements, the Forest Service is anticipating another dry summer and has been working on mitigating wildfire risk by hiring summer firefighting staff and conducting controlled burns over the winter.

More information on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest can be found here.