Friday, May 27, 2011

Trail Creek Road closed this weekend

County roadway still blocked by avalanche debris


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Blaine County A section of Trail Creek Road appears to curve around a slightly snowy hillside. However, Char Nelson, Blaine County director of operations, said the road doesn’t actually curve at all in this area. “That’s actually the shoulder,” she said. “The road is still covered by the avalanche.” The “hillside” is half-melted, muddy avalanche debris that county road crews hope to clear by June 2.

Despite the spring calendar date, fallout from winter avalanches is still blocking Trail Creek Road, making it more difficult for recreationists to head to Custer County this holiday weekend.

"If folks want to recreate in Custer County, they'll have to take the back way," said Char Nelson, Blaine County Director of Operations.

Nelson said Trail Creek Road was anticipated to open May 26, but this spring's winter-like weather has made it difficult for county crews to clear the road.

"We generally open up Trail Creek sometime in May, and we always hope to have it open for Memorial Day," she said. "While we'd like to have everything open for Memorial Day, the weather's just not cooperating with us this year."

Nelson said county crews began trying to clear the road on Monday, but ran into more avalanches, mud and rockslides than they had anticipated.

"It's a rather large job, and we'll be working on it all week," she said. "They'll continue to work on the road, but they've been unable to clear it because of the quantity of avalanches.

"It's an inconvenience to folks, but safety is a priority. That's a very narrow road, and even in areas where they have cleared the road, there are still boulders falling down."

Nelson said county policy is only to open a road when staff feel that all vehicles, not just small or specially equipped ones, can pass through.

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"There's an expectation when we open a road that it's good for regular traffic," she said, including recreational vehicles or those pulling large trailers. "We don't want [drivers] to be in a situation that is unsafe."

Trail Creek Road is scheduled to be cleared by June 2, but weather could delay the opening further. County crews cannot work on the steep road in icy or snowy conditions, and Nelson said her priority is safety for those crews as well as for county residents.

"If conditions up there become unsafe, crews will not be working," she said. "That's a steep incline with very narrow shoulders to work on with large equipment."

According to the forecast, crews won't get any help from the weather this weekend. The National Weather Service in Pocatello is calling for at least a 40 percent chance of snow from Friday through Sunday night, with highs on the valley floor barely scraping 50 degrees.

Nelson urged drivers not to ignore "Road Closed" signs on Trail Creek Road and on Colorado Gulch Road, south of Hailey, even if the roadway looks safe.

"Sometimes, [the road] looks just fine, and people wonder why it's closed," she said. "People need to understand we close the road at a good turn-around point. If they ignore the sign and go past it, they are going to run into an issue."

Current county road conditions can be accessed on the county's website, www.blainecounty.org, by clicking the "Blaine County Road Status" link at the top of the page.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

Weekend weather

Weather this holiday weekend is not looking festive—unless the holiday you're thinking of is Christmas. The National Weather Service has issued a Special Weather Statement for the Wood River Valley for this weekend that calls for a spring snowstorm through Friday night. Elevations above 5,500 feet could see accumulation, with significant accumulation over 9,000 feet. The service reports that in addition to the rain and snow, the storm will bring strong winds that could bring down trees or power lines. However, the strongest winds will be concentrated in the Snake River plain, south of the Wood River Valley.

Recreation report

Here's what's open this holiday weekend:

- Sawtooth National Recreation Area Headquarters: Open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, May 27, and Saturday, May 28.

- Lodges: Redfish Lake Lodge, Smiley Creek Lodge.

- Trails: Harriman Trail from SNRA Headquarters to Easley Hot Springs; Murdock Creek Trail for one mile at North Fork.

- Also open: Sawtooth Fish Hatchery, Stanley Museum, Boundary Campground and selected campgrounds in the Redfish Lake area, the Salmon River Corridor and along the Big Wood River.




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