Idaho State Parks and Recreation has been told it “likely” won’t be able to operate its popular yurts near Idaho City this winter because of the Pioneer Fire.
The fire has covered more than 80,000 acres since July 18 and still is just 50 percent contained. Fire has come close to all six of the yurts northeast of Idaho City, destroying one and damaging some others.
“At last update, it seemed likely the system will not be accessible through winter 2016/2017,” said Jennifer Okerlund, communications manager for Idaho State Parks and Recreation. “IDPR is taking steps to cancel and refund stays booked at least through Aug. 30, 2016, and are making plans to extend the cancellation for a longer period of time.”
The Whispering Pines yurt near the Gold Fork parking area was destroyed by the fire. Vault toilets were destroyed at two of the yurts.
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“There was significant canvas damage on most of the other yurts,” Okerlund said.
Still, it appears firefighters saved the structures by using protective heat wrapping, Okerlund said.
“We owe a debt of gratitude,” she said.
The area around the yurts remains closed while crews fight the fire. It’s unclear when the area will be opened to non-fire personnel. Once that happens, the Boise National Forest needs to assess the damage and come up with a plan for recreational use.
There’s no timeline for any of that because the fire is still burning.
“We haven’t sent our employees in,” Lee Ann Loupe of the Boise National Forest said. “We don’t have a lot of information on what the fire has done to different recreation sites and other resources. ... We don’t know when the fire will be at that stage were we can send folks in and start to do an assessment. We still have an actively burning fire, and that’s our priority.”
Parks and Recreation already has refunded more than $10,000 worth of rental deposits from the affected yurts, Okerlund said. The yurts are most popular in the winter, when it’s difficult to find an open day to rent them, she said. Reservations are taken nine months in advance, so many winter reservations were made before the fire started.
“It was our winter recreationists who helped bring the program to fruition in the beginning,” Okerlund said. “The Nordic skiers were so passionate about it, that they needed a place to stay in the backcountry. They helped us install them.”
One measure of the yurts’ popularity: Some customers have asked Parks and Rec to keep their deposits as donations toward the fire repairs.
“There’s this huge outcry from folks (to get the yurts back in service),” Okerlund said.
Revenue from the yurts pays for their maintenance but also for the non-motorized trails in the area. Four parking areas along Idaho 21 form a popular Park N’ Ski system used by Boise-area Nordic skiers, snowshoers and backcountry skiers.
The status of those trails for this winter also is uncertain.
“We have received word from the Forest Service that they understand how important the system is,” Okerlund said. “They’re committed to letting us rehab the yurts that are there. They want to work with us to keep the system whole. They also told us they’d like to bring the system back online for access as soon as possible.”