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Stay off closed Mount Charleston trails or risk jail, $5K fine, officials warn

Updated May 15, 2024 - 7:43 pm

Over the course of about six hours last August, a wall of water pummeled the trail leading to Mount Charleston’s Mary Jane Falls.

What’s left today few will recognize. Walking through gravel paths that were once paved will only lead to a deep, 15-foot-by-30-foot ravine lined by dirt marking where the beloved trail once was.

“When this happened, it was almost like people lost a family member,” said Ray Johnson, a Spring Mountains National Recreation Area fire prevention technician. “Everybody felt a portion of themself was no longer available.”

Last year, Tropical Storm Hilary devastated the town of Mount Charleston, leaving many without running water or reliable roads to travel into the Las Vegas Valley for weeks on end.

On a press tour Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service walked reporters through the Mary Jane Falls Trail — one of several in the recreation area that will be closed indefinitely going into the summer season. Others that will remain off-limits include the Upper Bristlecone Trail, Cathedral Rock Trail and the Deer Creek Picnic Area.

That’s largely because the agency doesn’t have the funds to fix them. If funding is secured, new plans about how to reconfigure the trails would need to go through lengthy environmental permitting processes, too.

However, staff is hopeful Echo Trailhead and Little Falls Trail will be ready to open before the end of the year, and 2 miles of Mack’s Canyon Road and the Lower Bristlecone Trail will be open over Memorial Day weekend.

“Obviously, we’re still in the throes of getting to recovery,” said Taylor Tims, the recreation area’s acting developed recreation officer. “We hear you — we want to get them fixed as fast as possible, too.”

Rescue missions more dangerous

Braving a trail closed to the public is dangerous, but some will choose to do it. During the tour, officials redirected two groups of hikers who said they didn’t know the trail wasn’t open for recreation.

Jason Douglas, Mount Charleston fire protection district chief, said rescue times skyrocket if a call comes from a closed trail.

Response times can be anywhere from one to three hours, he said, because use of a helicopter might be necessary.

“It’s all changed after the flood,” Douglas said. “It is just unsafe.”

Hiking a closed trail is also illegal. While education remains the Forest Service’s top priority, law enforcement and investigations patrol Capt. Nick Laprade said a conviction in court could lead to up to six months in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.

For Alan Gegax, a KNPR freelancer and mail carrier who organizes the 27,000-member VegasHikers group, there are many other trails out there to enjoy that don’t pose such a risk. Ignoring the advice of recreational area rangers is a gamble, he said.

“As a hiker, I had considered doing what these people did,” Gegax said. “But now having seen it — absolutely not. It is totally inappropriate for hiking. If you want to hike like that, just pick a random parking space and go out into the wilderness. There is no trail. There’s nothing even close to a trail.”

Contact Alan Halaly at ahalaly@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlanHalaly on X.

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