CANYON CITY – Getting there had its rough patches, but officials say the Wickiup Road is open to ATVs again and should handle a range of truck traffic as well.
New signs reading “Share the Road” and “Mixed Use” replace ones erected by the Forest Service a few weeks earlier restricting use to “highway legal” vehicles. The latter sparked protests because it barred use by ATVs on the road, which is an access to the popular Wickiup Campground on the southern end of the Malheur National Forest.
Officials urged drivers of all types of vehicles to drive carefully on the road.
“Share the road,” urged Steve Beverlin, deputy forest supervisor for the Malheur.
Speaking to the Grant County Court June 25, Beverlin said the posting stemmed from traffic safety measures that went into effect in 2011.
However, he also acknowledged the public concern over the change. He said that since the complaints were aired, the Forest Service and the county had reached “an understanding” and was reviewing how road safety issues should be addressed.
As an alternative to restricting use of Wickiup Road, forest officials decided they could restore mixed vehicle use if they also roughened the road surface and added speed bumps to reduce the potential for accidents.
That work began last Friday, but the result didn’t sit well with road users, who complained that the new bumps made the road nearly impassable.
County Commissioner Chris Labhart, who was spearheading the Court’s efforts to resolve the issue, conceded the grader had dug in dips and speed bumps that were too rough.
Labhart said when County Judge Scott Myers tested it with his pickup truck, “his differential hit bottom.”
Labhart said the Forest Service agreed to return to the road Monday and regrade the bumps. After the morning’s work, he said the road still has depressions to deter speeders, but they are nowhere near as severe.
“Any rig can go over it now,” Labhart said, adding, “But they do need to slow down.”
Beverlin said Monday the intent all along was to slow traffic by roughing up the surface while leaving it usable. He said Monday’s work would “soften” the speed bumps.
He also reminded ATV users and other drivers they won’t be able to drive that road at the same speed they’re used to.
Forest Supervisor Teresa Raaf and Beverlin said Monday’s fix will allow use by ATVs, pickups and other high-clearance vehicles and even stock trailers. They said they are looking at an alternative route for one commercial haul permittee.
Raaf said the varied needs “punctuate the fact that forest roads have all types of users.”
She pledged that if there are any lingering issues with the new surface, they will be addressed. She said they appreciate the county’s willingness to work with the agency to resolve the concerns.
ATV users also were concerned about restrictions on Vance Creek Road and in the Magone Lake area.
The new approach at Wickiup doesn’t affect those roads, but officials said the lines of communication are more open now.
“It’s a good start,” Labhart said of Wickiup.
He and the rest of the Court members want to form an advisory committee to look at forest road issues and try to deal with such concerns before they spin into controversy.
Commissioner Boyd Britton called it “a golden opportunity to make this right.”
Beverlin said the Forest Service is interested in exploring the committee idea, and Raaf said the forest staff is gathering input from other national forests on how that has been done elsewhere.
“Our intent isn’t to close the forest to public access – Our intent is to provide public access so people can enjoy the forest,” Beverlin told the Court.