Forest Service working on addressing bottlenecking up American Fork Canyon 02

A car drives up the American Fork Canyon on Thursday, March 1, 2018.

Federal government workers have been back from furlough for nearly two weeks, but they’re still assessing what the effects to the public will be from being shut down for 35 days.

Come springtime, there may be noticeable impacts to the public’s trail access, as forest personnel lost more than a month of both hands-on and behind-the-scenes work while the federal government was partially shut down in January.

One of the most significant impacts of the government shutdown was that the process for hiring seasonal employees did not start in January as usual, said Loyal Clark, spokeswoman for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

Seasonal workers who are normally on board no later than May 1 may not start work until well into the summer, meaning the forest service will be looking to partners and volunteers to step in and help get as many trails as possible ready before Memorial Day weekend.

“One area we have identified is our trails and trailheads may not receive the attention they have in prior years,” Clark said.

Typically springtime is when work is done to clear trails and remove any downed materials such as fallen trees. With as much wet, heavy snowfall as the forests have received this winter, Clark said she expects a lot of work will need done to clear the trails.

Fourteen of the positions not hired for are critical firefighting positions, Clark said, and getting those filled is now a priority.

In addition, all scheduled meetings with partners, volunteers, and elected officials have had to be rescheduled, meaning timelines for project work across the forest are all pushed back by at least a month, Clark said. That includes several rehabilitation projects in the area of the forest ravaged by the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires last year.

Contracts for projects were delayed in being put out to bid, Clark said, though those projects will be priorities as the forest service regroups, Clark said.

Clark did say that partners such as Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources stepped up during the shutdown and helped with preparing a contract to get new seed mix for the Mount Nebo unit.

“Once we returned to work, those were the priority” Clark said. “We’re now working on adjusting timelines on contracts and agreements with our partners.”

As forest personnel continue checking how the forest fared during the shutdown, vandalism has been a recurring theme. Many gates that had been closed to keep people out had the locks cut off, Clark said, including the gate closed above Tibble Fork.

“Some sites were closed for the season, and some gates for undeveloped areas were closed knowing we wouldn’t have employees to monitor them,” Clark said.

Though a small percentage of people did a lot of damage, Clark said there were also many groups and individuals who were up in the forest doing volunteer work such as cleaning up picnic areas, trash and restocking toilet paper.

Though they’re assessing as quickly as they can, Clark said they anticipate to continue finding new impacts as they continue to check more sites.

“We prioritized areas we know have high use during winter and checked on those first,” Clark said.

Katie England covers local government, the environment and southern Utah County for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

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