Despite Education Campaign, Forest Service Citing Dozens For Violating COVID-19 Hot Springs Closure
One of the most popular hikes in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest remains closed due to the coronavirus, despite Utah’s strong push towards re-opening the state.
Under normal circumstances, the Spanish Fork Ranger District must manage hundreds of visitors at one of the most popular hikes in the Spanish Fork Ranger District, a rolling two-mile hike to idyllic hot springs.
“On a given weekday you may see 400 to 1,000 visitors; weekend holidays, somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500. It's not unusual to have waiting lines for the hot springs and the hot springs to be full,” said Luke Decker, the district ranger for the Spanish Fork Ranger District.
But the hot springs and the trail to it are both closed, thanks to its popularity. According to Decker, patterns of misuse combined with the dangers of gathering in groups during the coronavirus pandemic are responsible for its continuing closure.
“Prior to the closure we had about 100 cars lining the road and we were having issues with access for emergency responder personnel up there. And with COVID and the group sizes we were already getting up there. So we kind of look at it from two different perspectives: both from the disease aspect and also the access issue for public health and safety there for emergency responders,” said Decker.
Decker and his team have been focusing on educating the public about the closure. They field between 50 and 100 phone calls a day about the hot springs and maintain a staff at the trailhead to inform hikers about the closure. But despite their efforts, rangers are writing between 40 and 60 tickets a week for hikers trying to sneak a soak.
“It's been a tough year on everyone. I would just ask for folks to be patient and respect the closure. We are working closely with our county health department partners and following the federal guidelines, as far as maintaining this closure. We hope to open it back up at some point in the near future, but you never know, with what's going on, when that’ll be,” Decker said.