As winter recedes, Forest Service officials are finding that mountain roads were hit particularly hard this year, and they’re warning that some of them may be damaged or unpassable
Winter’s soggy, snowy onslaught made for occasionally nightmarish driving conditions and riddled Clark County’s roads with potholes. Now that the snow is melting in the mountains, U.S. Forest Service officials finding their roads didn’t fare much better.
Officials with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest said more miles of road were extensively damaged or choked with debris after winter and spring than they’ve seen in recent memory. Officials expect to find more as the snow continues to melt in the high elevations. Recreation enthusiasts should be prepared for some roads to open later than usual.
“One of the people on the road crew has been on for 20 years and he said this is the worst he’s seen in terms of quantity of sites with downed trees and rocks on the road,” said Jonathan Heyl, an engineer for Gifford Pinchot National Forest. “There have been bigger winters with more severe damage, but there are more sites that need addressing than in the past.”
The Gifford Pinchot National Forest has roughly 4,000 miles of road within its borders. The forest floor is saturated with water and road shoulders are unstable. And U.S. Forest Service employees are still uncovering the damage. Heyl said the U.S. Forest Service has brought in some forest fire crews to help road crews speed things up.
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“But a long cleanup is ahead, ”he said.
Some areas are so damaged that they are likely not to open for a while, including others that are accessible but not without a certain amount of risk.
Forest Service Road 54 near Canyon Creek won’t be opening this year because the road slid out. Crews won’t be able to repair the road for some time.
Forest Service Road 90 near Milepost 11.5 along Swift Creek reservoir is down to one lane due to a large debris slide. Also, farther up Forest Road 90 just west of Lower Falls near Crab Creek is currently passable to street vehicles but camping trailers and motor homes should avoid the area until the repairs are complete.
Crews have been barricading roads where they have found intense and possibly dangerous conditions, but Heyl said people have been moving or stealing the signs and barricades in some instances. So he’s urging people to be cautious when they head to the mountains.
“Please, don’t assume the road is completely open … in some cases, I’d advise taking it below the speed limit and don’t go around the barriers,” he said.
As the weather clears up, more people are likely to head into the mountains. Forest Service Spokeswoman Sue Ripp suggested people check road conditions in the area before visiting by either calling the nearest district office or visiting the Gifford Pinchot National Forest website for conditions.