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Some campgrounds near the North Platte will be closed due to potential flooding this weekend

 Foote Public Access Area sign with river and trees in background.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department

High water levels are expected on the North Platte River this weekend, which is causing the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to close some campgrounds.

It is possible that parts of the North Platte River will flood this weekend, especially in low lying areas near Saratoga. This is because spring runoff is peaking after a winter of massive snowfall.

“So we just recommend extra safety in and around the rivers this time of year with all that excess snow melt running off, because it's going to be very cold,” Jared Allen, National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist, said. “You get hypothermia pretty quick if you get swept into the river and are unable to escape.”

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department said many of their nearby public access areas (PAA), including Foote PAA and Pick Bridge PAA, will be inaccessible until the water subsides. They are recommending people camp away from the river.

The USFS also issued an emergency closure to overnight camping within a thousand feet of the North Platte River, stretching from the Colorado border up to the confluence with Savage Run Creek.

Allen said this is actually a separate issue. It is because of flash flooding from potential storms this weekend, which the area is prone to because of the Mullen Fire from 2020.

“Whenever the soil gets scorched that intensely, it becomes what's known as hydrophobic, which means that if you put rain or water on top of that soil, the rain just beads off, like it is not absorbed into the ground whatsoever,” Allen said. “So if you have a heavy rainfall event, especially a quarter of an inch in a 15 minute period, that can be enough to start to cause a flash flood.”

He said there can also be what is called a ‘debris flow,’ which is when the high, fast moving river picks up all the rock, mud and debris leftover from the wildfire. Allend said it can take up to five years till there is vegetation recovery on the soil after a wildfire, making the soil less prone to flash flooding.

Other areas around the state that Allen said he is keeping an eye on for high water levels include the Salt, Green Bear Rivers on the western side of the state. He said runoff typically ends by early July.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.

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