April 29, 2019 - 4:03 pm
The National Park Service is set to reopen a portion of Great Basin National Park closed by fire almost three years ago.
Starting Wednesday , visitors will be allowed back into Strawberry Creek for the first time since summer 2016, when a wildfire scorched more than 4,700 acres and left one firefighter dead.
Though the area will be open for hiking and other day-use activities, park wildlife biologist Bryan Hamilton said it is expected to remain closed to camping for several more years, while the park service seeks funding to rebuild the restrooms and camp sites.
The Strawberry Creek Campground, 290 miles northeast of Las Vegas, had undergone about $2 million in renovations a few years before the fire. The lightning-sparked blaze also wiped out more than a decade worth of stream restoration work aimed at returning endangered Bonneville cutthroat trout to the watershed.
Justin Beebe, a U.S. Forest Service firefighter from a Montana-based hotshot crew, was struck by a falling tree and killed while battling the fire.
Hamilton said dead trees still pose a safety risk above Strawberry Creek.
“Every time there’s a windstorm, there are trees coming down,” he said. “It will probably be that way for next five to 10 years.”
There is also an increased danger of flash flooding as the burned forest slowly regrows its natural ability to absorb water and curb erosion.
Federal officials have tried to help things along with plantings on the ground and seeds dropped from the air. Hamilton said those efforts are paying dividends, especially in areas dominated by sagebrush, but non-native cheatgrass has taken hold in some parts of the burned landscape.
“The recovery is kind of a mixed bag, but overall we’re happy with it,” he said.
Park officials plan to install a restroom in Strawberry Creek later this year and have drafted a proposal to rebuild the campground.
Hamilton said they hope to pay for the work with roughly $300,000 from the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, which directs some of the proceeds from federal land sales in Clark County into a fund for conservation projects around the state.