Road construction set to begin

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer October 30, 2013 10:38 am

Construction on a portion of the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road starts Thursday and will continue seasonally through 2015.

Road work will begin at the junction of Forest Road 39 and Highway 86, 10 miles east of Halfway and head north for 13 miles on Forest Service Road 39 to the junction of Forest Service Road 66, also known as the Duck Creek/Fish Lake Road. The construction work will include subgrade repair and paving.

Kris Stein, district ranger of the Eagle Cap Wilderness and Hells Canyon NRA, said delays on the road will be as long as an hour, but a detour is available using Forest Service Road 66, or the Duck Creek/Fish Lake Road — a 30-mile route that will also delay travel approximately an hour.

“We got an opportunity to get a good fix on that lower piece of the road, 13 miles where a lot of big sinkholes are,” Stein said.

She said the contract is through Nov. 15, 2015, but construction wouldn’t be active the entire time.

The Forest Service said that the detour, or 66 Road, is a well-maintained single-lane gravel road with pullouts. The route is suitable for vehicles with trailers; however, it is not recommended for motor homes.

At a meeting of stakeholders Tuesday at the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce, several business owners said that the 66 Road would not be a good option for cyclists, motorcyclists and possibly passenger cars. 

Paul Arentsen of Winding Waters Rafting said he would not use the detour when transporting gear and clients to Hells Canyon next summer, but asked Stein if he could coordinate with the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. construction times to streamline his travel.

Business owners and tourism representatives from both Baker and Wallowa counties suggested that training sessions in the spring of 2014 should be held so that those working in the tourism industry can get the best information out to visitors during the construction.

The stakeholders discussed where best to place signs in Joseph and along the various routes on the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, which runs along Highway 82 from La Grande to Joseph, down Highway 350, or the Imnaha Highway for nine miles, and then along Forest Road 39 to Highway 86.