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Snow, closures on Mirror Lake Highway chill Uinta tourism

Snow, closures on Mirror Lake Highway chill Uinta tourism

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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KAMAS — Winding its way east from Kamas and into the Uinta Mountains, Mirror Lake Highway is a popular tourist route, but local businesses say this year's heavy snowfall and road closure have influenced business.

"It's been slow. There's a lot of snow up on the pass. All the upper campgrounds are still closed. It would be nice to get some traffic through here," said David Withem, who owns Samak Smoke House and Country Store, along with his wife, Jenifer Hisey.

Hisey said sales in the store, situated at the mouth of the canyon, have been significantly lower than last year's.

"We're missing a lot of the scenic drivers, campers, hikers, fishermen, all the people that like to come up here and recreate. We are missing that business due to the road still being closed," she said Friday.

John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, noted Utah's above-average snowfall this year has made it more difficult to plow the highway in time for the season's usual start.


"We typically plan on plowing those mountain routes before Memorial Day weekend, because there are a lot of outdoor recreationalists that use them," he said

Gleason noted that "there are some spots (on Mirror Lake Highway) where the snowpack is incredibly high for this time of year." However, he said, the high snowpack is not the only thing stopping the road from opening.

Gleason said that the snow removal budget for the year had been surpassed by almost $7 million as of last week.

"The projected budget that we had at the beginning of the year for snow removal was $24.1 million," he explained, noting that snow removal has now cost the state a total of $31 million this year.

He said the department is hoping to start clearing the highway around June 17, but added that it will depend on the weather.

In the meantime, store owners in Kamas and as far as Oakley are feeling the stark difference from last year's early summer.

"It's definitely different than last year, it's night and day," said David Wade, owner of a Chevron on Kamas' Main Street.

Locals eat lunch at The Cutting Board in Kamas on Friday, June 7, 2019. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
Locals eat lunch at The Cutting Board in Kamas on Friday, June 7, 2019. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Even as far out as Oakley business seems to be slow. The owner of the Road Island Diner, Steve Butler, noted that while summer is usually the busiest time of the year, this year's sales have yet to pick up.

"We (serve) like 300 and some people a day usually in the summertime, but right now we're not doing that. (The highway closure) is hurting everybody," he said.

While many local store owners anxiously await some sunshine, one tourist who drove up to the snow bank on Mirror Lake Highway on Friday was delighted to touch snow for the first time in his life.

After exiting the car with a pair of local friends, Tanvir Kaisar, who is visiting from Bangladesh, excitedly scooped up the snow. He made his first snowballs and tossed them at his friends, even laying down on the snow bank.

"I thought before coming here, the snow means it's very cold," he said, noting that it was not as cold as he had imagined.

When asked what it felt like, he found himself at a loss for words.

"The feeling was, I can't express myself. It's really amazing."


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Christina Giardinelli


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