LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — 99% of Mt. Charleston has reopened, but the 1% – areas washed away by an unprecedented tropical storm – may be where visitors envisioned their winter season.
When Ray Johnson walks through the Spring Mountains he patrols, he’s now reminded of two months prior when Tropical Strom Hilary brought nearly 10 inches of rain and thrashed residents out of their homes in August.
“The water was 50 yards wide, half a football field wide,” the U.S. Forest Service representative said, pointing to new drainage channels within Kyle Canyon formed during the Summer storm. “As you can see, (the mountains are) very steep, which means the water had a lot of velocity.”
Now, crews are working to repair beloved trails and recreation areas that did not open by this week, but those repairs won’t be done by winter.
A new closure order for the Spring Mountains restricts access to some of the most popular trails, including Mary Jane Falls, Echo, Trail Canyon, Cathedral Rock, and Bristlecone Pine. U.S. Forest Service Area Manager Deborah McNeill said routes like these no longer exist and are not safe to traverse.
“Those sites that are closed are hard closed, generally, because they’re kind of gone,” McNeill said during a Thursday morning press conference 15 miles up Kyle Canyon Road from the valley. “We’re going to be accessing, pursuing funding, and trying to find the best way to rebuild and, in many cases, reroute the trails.”
Doing so may take two years, the standard time to reopen from non-emergency closures, McNeill said. In the meantime, Mt. Charleston Fire Protection District Assistant Chief Jason Douglass said those entering the restricted zones may require helicopter operations if a rescue is needed.
“If people are going to go and break those closure orders, it’s going to be very hard for us to get in there and get people out of there,” Douglass said during the conference.
Fines for breaking the order can be between $5,000 to $10,000 and carry a potential six-month jail sentence.
While those trails are rerouted and rebuilt, the U.S. Forest Service is also pointing visitors to some of the lesser-known areas that survived or recovered. Lee Canyon Ski Resort is one of them, despite gnarly damages seen just two months prior.
The resort saw debris from higher up the mountain wash down and submerge its lifts, which canceled the remainder of its summer season. But, Marketing Director Jim Seely said that was not the only problem area.
“It was the ski trails themselves that really eroded away, and that included the areas near the chair lifts, the upper chair lifts,” Seely said after the conference. “The chairlifts did survive.”
Two months of rebuilding have left the lifts standing tall, with the debris being used to backfill erosion areas. Seely expects to hold a hiring fair for the winter season during early November, with hopes the resort will reopen before mid-December.
Paired with major roads expected to reopen across the mountain by mid-November, officials believe a traditional winter on the mountain can be experienced this year, though visitors are encouraged to continuously check Go Mount Charleston for updated closures and openings.