PENDLETON — The U.S. Forest Service urged visitors to national forests in Eastern Oregon to be prepared for muddy and hazardous roads.

Snow may have thawed from the foothills, but forest officials in a news release warned most forest roads remain inaccessible due to mud or snow. In addition, traveling on thawing, saturated and muddy roads can result in resource damage and serious safety concerns, especially for unprepared visitors.

“We typically see multiple incidents this time of year where families head up for the day, get stuck, and end up spending the night or making a very long hike out to look for help,” said Lisa Rynearson, safety officer for the Malheur National Forest.

Many places in the Blue Mountains have limited or no cellphone coverage, so forest visitors should be prepared to spend the night in the forest with warm clothing, food and plenty of water.

“Before you head out, always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return,” added Lee Mercer, safety officer for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

Forest officials also encouraged the public to minimize damage to natural resources from travel on roads that are susceptible to rutting due to warmer weather and melting snowpack. David Plummer, engineering staff officer for the Wallowa-Whitman, said forest roads are not constructed to be all-weather roads and can easily sustain damage when wet.

“Imagine driving onto your own lawn at this time of year,” he said in the announcement. “Tire ruts that are just an inch deep can leave lasting impressions that only grow with rain and erosion.”

The Forest Service also warned operating a vehicle that damages or unreasonably disturbs land and vegetation is illegal and asked visitors to report resource damage if they see it.

The Umatilla National Forest’s travel management plan prohibits cross-country travel.

Visitors can obtain free Motor Vehicle Use Maps at the Umatilla National Forest office or downloaded from the Forest Service website.

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