Visitors return to Lincoln National Forest

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RUIDOSO, N.M. — The Lincoln National Forest has been pretty empty.

Not of the sights and sounds of nature, but of the people who bike, hike, picnic and camp within it.

At 8 a.m. Friday, for the first time in nearly a month, the forest which stretches into four southeast New Mexico counties was once again open to the public. Within hours, it was teeming with visitors.

On May 25, all 1.1 million acres of the forest was closed to the public due to high risks of wildfires fueled by dry conditions.

But on Thursday, the Forest Service announced that because of increased moisture – brought on by as much as six inches of rain in some areas – access would be restored.

Locals Tom and Billye McRae said they were thrilled by the news.

“We’re glad that it’s raining now and we can get back out and enjoy ourselves,” she said.

For the McRae’s, who live in Ruidoso, the huddled pines and network of winding trails is not a tourist attraction but a part of their lives. Nearly every day, they come out to hike a few miles.

The couple, who lived close to the McBride Fire that scorched thousands of acres in the nearby mountains in April, say they understand why the public had to be turned away from the forest for a time.

“We were pro-closing the forest if they needed to, but we are sure glad we got the rain and now we can go back and use our lovely forests,” Tom McRae said.

Walking their neighborhood while the park was closed, they said, was not the same.

Other visitors Friday had come further away, such as Gabriel Hernandez and his mother who had traveled from El Paso, to run in a marathon over the weekend.

Mother and son walked beneath the treetops and stopped to sit on a nearby bench.

A self-described outdoors fan, Hernandez said he hikes in the mountain back in Texas, but this is a different experience.

“There’s a bunch of trails but mostly it’s just dry weeds over there, buts it’s beautiful over here because of the trees and its cooler,” Hernandez said.

And he is hoping to back again this weekend.

“Tomorrow my sister and my brother are going to come so actually we are planning to have a little picnic,” he said.