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Road Report: Lower Volcano Region

Making your way between Puget Sound and the Columbia River Gorge can be a lot more fun if you skip I-5. But with recent volcano activity and construction efforts the landscape is changing on the back roads. Here’s a brief update of what to expect if you ride the roads on the backside of Mt. St. Helens.

Wind River Road/FR 30 – This road got a fresh chip seal this summer during July from the Carson Fish Hatchery to Paradise Creek Campground. As of September 1st the oil had been dispersed and the pavement was awaiting new lines.

Jim Spade, an engineer at WADOT, says that in a chip seal a layer of oil is sprayed onto the road, then ground bits of asphalt are dispensed along the surface of the road, autos grind it into the existing pavement and then another oil seal is sprayed to lock it into the surface and darken the road so the lines become more visible to drivers. Chip seals are usually done on a road before it begins to sustain damage, kind of an insurance policy per say.

Not fun to ride on when it’s in process, but it makes for a more predictable surface when the job is completed.

FR25 – This primary forest road that runs along the east side of Mt. St. Helens is notorious for eating motorcycles. It’s only open from late spring to fall as it’s closed for snow during the winter and early spring. For the last several years all the Forest Service has done is patch here and patch there making for a rather unpredictable surface. This road is beyond getting a chip seal. There are numerous drop outs on FR25 between Randle and FR99, particularly in the northbound direction. This makes for a rather back breaking ride on a road that used to be a lot more fun. The only thing that can make this road better is to resurface the bad parts entirely, but that’s not something you can expect anytime soon as there are no resurfacing projects currently scheduled for the road according to Tom Knappenberger, a spokesperson for USFS Gifford Pinchot district.

The rate at which the Forest Service repairs roads is slow due to limited funding. Now you might ask yourself why is there limited funding? In the past logging paid the bills and there was a lot more money in the budget of USFS. When logging declined, they tried to make up the shortfall by passing onto us the Northwest Forest Pass. That didn’t even have a band aid effect since most of us refused to buy into it – literally. Until USFS gets more money in their budget look for a lot more patching going on.

The stretch of road from Muddy River north up the grade for several miles has numerous speed warning signs on the curves. Heed them and you’ll come out the other side just fine. If you don’t there are many a ditch to greet you. Trouble is that foliage near the road has grown around some of the signs and one is bent to the point it can’t be easily read. So many cars and motorcycles have gone into one such ditch so many times, the forest service has built a tow road into it. This section is no under re-engineering consideration according to another forest service official.

FR26 – This road has been closed for years, but was opened this summer. It’s a one lane forest road with pullouts along the way. Although it was recently opened it has a way to go before you can call it complete. The road has more than 20 gravel patches across it that have yet to get pavement. While that might be okay in an RV or on a dual sport motorcycle, it’s hardly something you’d want to take your sportbike or shinny Harley across. Rumor has it that the USFS is having trouble getting the contractor to finish the work. A definitive statement regarding this is due from them later this month.

Another issue on FR26 is the metal grating used on the culvert crossing. Some of it diamond top surface, others is bridge type grating. Either way, neither is conducive to riding across on two wheels if they are wet on top. To make matters more complicated some are banked with the turn.

For a lesson in how to create a top notch one lane forest service road, visit FR54 and FR60, also located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. These are stunning examples of road engineering that two wheelers can grin about.

FR99 – This is the road that runs from FR25 out to Windy Ridge. Due to some recent slide activity this road is getting some resurfacing along it’s path so keep your eyes peeled for the roadwork signs. Always a favorite road with me, I particularly enjoy entering the blast zone, even as the trees begin to grow again in the area.

Patrick Thomas/Summer 05


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