Parking for as many as 100 vehicles, 25 new campsites and three new restrooms are part of the plan for improvements at the Mount Borah trailhead.
Allison Jackson, district ranger in the Salmon-Challis Forest's Lost River ranger district, has submitted a plan for the proposed improvements on about 29 acres at the base of Idaho's tallest peak to the Forest Service national office in Washington, D.C. The project has been in the works for about a decade, Jackson said, and was repeatedly stalled because of funding shortfalls.
If approved, phase one work is expected to begin in April 2021.
Forest Recreational Officer Melissa Fowler said phase one would include a new parking lot, campsites and bathrooms. Subsequent phases would add overflow campsites below the existing trailhead, an interpretive rotunda, a handicap-accessible trail and a water well.
The project is meant to help accommodate the growing number of climbers who use the trailhead every year. According to the Forest Service, the trailhead saw a 36 percent increase in use from 2014 to 2017.
"Thanks to the internet and climbing blogs and hiking blogs there has been a steady rise in use of the trail in the last 10 years," Fowler said.
With limited parking available at the trailhead, people often park their autos in the tall grass, which is a fire hazard. That risk is a big concern of forest officials, Fowler said.
"Saturdays and Sundays in the summer are the busiest," said Fowler. "We sometimes see 80 to 90 cars parked at the trailhead."
Campsite improvements are necessary because many climbers spend the night at the trailhead, climb up the mountain in the morning and climb down in the afternoon. Fowler said today the climbers are "camping wherever they can throw a sleeping bag down" and spending the night uncovered. This practice poses a safety hazard because people driving on the trailhead can't see campers at night and risk running them over.
Regular users of the trailhead echoed the concerns of Forest Service personnel.
Clint Bard, who traveled up the mountain four times last year and is an experienced hiker and guide, said Borah is ill-prepared for the popularity it has received in recent years. Bard said because there are only a couple of bathrooms the lines to use them are often too long for some people to wait. He said it is not uncommon to get to the trailhead and see someone "doing their business out in the open."
Both Bard and Fowler said Borah will continue to see more and more visitors. They both want to make sure the area is properly maintained so people have a good time climbing, hiking and camping.
"You hear about how wonderful Borah is and you get to the trailhead and it's kind of disappointing," said Bard.