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May 29, 2014 09:55 PM

Black Hills National Forest Officials Close Public Area

Sundance, WY

Worries about a possible landslide have prompted Black Hills National Forest officials to close a public recreation area.

From a distance, it looks like any other sagging hillside in the western Black Hills, where soils are especially unstable.

But this old slide carries dangerous potential, looming as it does above Cook Lake and its U.S. Forest Service recreation area.

Odds of a dangerous landslide are slim, but particularly given landslides in other parts of the nation, forest service officials will not take a chance.

"We've had a wet year. And these things tend to be problematic when you've had a wet year," U.S. Forest Service geologist Karl Emanuel said. "It's nice and dry now. We hope it stays that way. But we just want to make sure that we err on the side of caution."

So officials shut down the popular recreation area, its 32 campsites, 12 picnic units and two hiking trails until things dry up and the risk is reduced. That's a loss to people across northeast Wyoming, where water-based recreation is scarce. Suprisingly, there haven't been many complaints.

"People are understanding of the closure and understand the risk it poses to their safety," Bearlodge District Ranger Steve Kozel said.

The slope has moved before. A 1997 landslide left a ridge of bucked-up soil not far from one campground loop. The risk of a repeat was multiplied this year by twice the normal winter precipitation and a wet spring.

"So that raised our concern level and prompted us to take the action we have taken," Emanuel says.

It's an action that leaves the always-peaceful Cook Lake even quieter than usual, for now.

Forest Service officials say a drier weather pattern in recent weeks is reducing the landslide risk. If that pattern continues and no worrisome shifting occurs, the Cook Lake Recreation Area could be reopened in mid to late June.

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