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70% of Lava Beds park lands charred

LAVA BEDS NATIONAL MONUMENT — More areas of Lava Beds National Monument are reopening, but several popular features remain closed.

Park officials said Monday that fee collection has resumed. The park visitor center is now open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cave Loop Road has reopened, although some caves are closed because of seasonal bat colony concerns.

The park was closed after the lightning-caused Caldwell fire began July 22. Dry conditions, high winds and additional lightning strikes spread the fire farther into the park, causing staff to be evacuated. The park was closed July 23 to protect the staff and public.

Park officials said the fire is now contained, but 70% of the park lands are burned. The park’s structures remained intact, but some minor infrastructure was destroyed. Lava Beds partially reopened Aug. 14.

As of Monday, fee collection has resumed, and the following park locations and facilities are available: Indian Well Campground. Valentine Cave. The entire length of the park road, including south of the visitor center. Skull Cave Road and Skull Cave. Schonchin Butte Road and the Schonchin Butte Trail.

Cave Loop Road is open although some caves are closed. To learn which are open and closed, see www.nps.gov/labe/planyourvisit/caving.htm.

Also open are: Forest Service Road 49. Heppe Cave. Mammoth Crater and Hidden Valley. Big Nasty Trail. Merrill Cave and the Whitney Butte Trail. Fleener Chimneys. Gillems Camp. Canby Cross. West Wildlife Overlook. Hospital Rock. Petroglyph Section.

Until further notice, all burned areas are closed to public access, including: Trail to Caldwell Butte. The Three Sisters, Bunchgrass, Lyons and Missing Link trails. Trail to Big Painted Cave and Symbol Bridge. Balcony/Boulevard Cave Trail. Black Crater/Thomas-Wright Battlefield trails. Captain Jack’s Stronghold trail and parking lot. East Wildlife Overlook.

“Given the severity of the fire, we want to make sure you have a safe and enjoyable visit,” park officials said in a news release. “As you travel through the park, please be sure to follow these rules for your safety:”

Obey the posted closures. Do not proceed past the barriers and/or signs.

Stay on designated trails and paths. Do not hike off-trail. By hiking off-trail you increase your chances of injury, and as there is a decrease in vegetation, you’ll add to the number of social trails in the park, which can confuse other visitors and damage the already sensitive burnt landscape.

Do not stop on the road to observe the fire damage or take photos. Instead, continue until you find either a pull-out or an established parking lot.

The ground that burned is free from vegetation. Do not collect anything that is exposed. Leave it on the ground. If you see something that is exposed or unsafe, bring it to the attention of park staff.

Obey posted speed limits. There are work crews in the park and along the road.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, and the health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers and partners continues to be paramount,” the release said. “At Lava Beds National Monument our operational approach continues to be centered on examining each facility function and service provided to ensure those operations comply with current public health guidance and will be regularly monitored. We continue to work closely with the NPS Office of Public Health using CDC guidance to ensure public areas and work spaces are safe and clean for visitors, employees, partners and volunteers.”

For details, see nps.gov/labe.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Lee Juillerat photo Lava Beds Superintendent Larry Whalon surveys fire damage from the Devil's Homestead Lava Flow overlook.