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Workers Hasten to Refurbish Harriman Trail Before Snow Piles Up
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Wednesday, September 27, 2017
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Yes, Virginia, there will be skiing on the Harriman Trail this winter, even though spring flooding ripped away portions of the trail.

With winter closing in, crews from the Sawtooth National Forest Service and Blaine County Recreation District are rushing to shore up the flood-ravaged trail that hosts one of America’s top Nordic ski races each winter.

Workers began staging equipment at Baker Creek Road on Tuesday with expectations of beginning work on a portion of damaged trail just south of the road this week or next.

They will begin work on a portion of trail near Easley Hot Springs the first week of October and reroute the missing portion of trail just north of the North Fork campground in early or mid-October.

Work is expected to continue through the month of October. But it comes with a caveat.

The trail work done this fall will not look like the finished product Forest Service and BCRD representatives eventually hope to provide.

“If we had six months, we could do everything we want to right now,” said Jim Keating, executive director for the Blaine County Recreation District. “But we’ve got to get ready for winter now. We have just enough time to make the damaged parts ready for skiing, to get them to a level we can groom them. And, really, no one will notice that they’re not quite done when the snow is on top. We’ll come back and fine tune it next summer.”

Spring flooding on the Big Wood River carted an entire piece of the trail near kilometer two just north of SNRA headquarters down to the Magic Reservoir. Where flooding did not rip the banks away, it dug trenches in the ground and scoured the trail, taking soil off to expose cobble and rock.

Water continued to run over the trail near Easley Hot Springs throughout the summer, exposing cobble and bedrock. And the surface of the trail was washed away just south of Baker Creek Road, leaving a rough mix of cobble and bedrock.

It was mid-July before flooding subsided enough to allow BCRD and Forest Service officials to get into the Big Wood River to assess the situation. Engineers came behind them, recommending the best ways to restore the trail while minimizing the chances of such damage recurring during above-average runoff in the future.

Once Forest Service representatives decided how to proceed, they had to get work permits approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies.

“The best time to do work like this is in the fall when the ground has had a chance to dry out,” said Kirk Flannigan, area ranger for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. “We are committed to having the Harriman Trail up and running in its entirety for the 2017-2018 winter cross-country season, and we appreciate the patience and support of the community while work is underway.” 

Rebuilding the portion of trail that was obliterated would have been less expensive than rerouting the trail, Flannigan said. But analysis showed that the river will continue to eat away at the section in years when there’s a heavy snowpack so the Forest Service was left with no recourse other than to reroute the trail to higher ground.

“We’re rerouting a short section—less than a quarter mile—a little closer to the highway, reconnecting it to the rest of the trail in the vicinity of the fisherman’s pull-out across from Durrance Peak. Even though it’s nearer the highway, I think it’s a safe distance for skiers and their dogs,” Flannigan said.

Workers will stabilize banks and rebuild the trail running past Easley Hot Springs, putting in a water bar or drainage ditch so that water will have a way to get off the trail if the river jumps its banks in the future. Parts of the trail in that area are lower than the river so it’s likely water will flow over the trail during future floods, Flannigan said.

Crews will also stabilize banks and rebuild about 150 yards of trail south of Baker Creek Road, putting in a water bar or drainage ditch to divert run-off off the trail.

Work is being done by local contractors hired by BCRD and a Forest Service road crew. Funding is being provided by both agencies.

The Forest Service will do additional work next spring and summer, putting down a new gravel surface on portions they’re working to restore this fall.

A silver lining of rebuilding the trail is that smaller finer gravel—what’s labeled as “reject material” from road work—can be used to resurface the trail, said Flannigan.

The large diameter gravel used to surface the Harriman Trail when it was built more than a dozen years ago is good for automobile travel but more difficult for bicyclists and strollers to navigate. The finer gravel binds together well, making it more user-friendly for mountain bikers.

Keating said the BCRD hopes to turn this difficult situation into an opportunity to reassess how the BCRD and Forest Service might improve the surface on the entire 30-kilometer trail.

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