Boundary County commissioners and 1,000 residents have signed on to stop the U.S. Forest Service from closing a historic road.
Scenic Boundary Creek Road leads to some prime hunting grounds, prized huckleberry patches and an old gold mine in the Selkirk Mountains north of Bonners Ferry.
Portions of the road washed out and collapsed last spring. Instead of repairing the damage and reopening the road, the Forest Service wants to obliterate it. Residents are outraged, saying they are tired of access to forests being cut off.
“There are enough areas in this community already closed to citizens,” Boundary County Commissioner Murleen Skeen said, noting many roads have been gated to protect endangered grizzly bears and caribou.
“Some of us feel if this road is closed, next it will be Smith Creek Road and right on down the west side,” Skeen said. “It sounds like a plan to shut off the west side and make it a roadless area.”
Bonners Ferry District Ranger Elaine Zieroth hasn’t issued a written decision on closing the road, but told commissioners that is the plan. Crews are supposed to start shutting down the road next spring. It is gated now for safety reasons.
Zieroth was unavailable for comment. Other Forest Service officials in the office would not comment on the planned closure.
Many mountain roads were damaged in Boundary County last winter. Commissioners said Boundary Creek Road was not maintained properly. Plugged ditches sent water over the road, causing it to collapse about three miles in.
The Forest Service is considering closing several other damaged roads, partly because of limited use and the lack of funds to repair them all. But Boundary Creek Road, which stretches all the way to Priest Lake, has stirred the most controversy.
Commissioners passed a resolution this summer opposing the closure. More than 1,000 residents in this county of about 9,000 people also signed a petition against obliterating the road. The issue may have to get resolved in court, Skeen said.
“We have discussed some alternatives and have some cards up our sleeve,” she said. “Filing a lawsuit is only one option.”
The Forest Service received some federal funds to fix washed-out roads. During a tour of Boundary Creek, commissioners were told the bill would be $150,000 to re-open it and only $70,000-$80,000 to close it permanently. County estimates from road builders put the repair bill at $70,000 or less, Skeen said.
Commissioner Merle Dinning said the road was an economic lifeline for the county from the 1800s up to 1970. It was used by loggers and miners. Closing the road would cut off access to some 10,000 acres of national forest land, he said.
“Because of its history and recreational use, this road has a lot of meaning to people in this community. It’s a nice Sunday drive to Priest Lake for a many of us,” added Skeen. “There is no reason to close it.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo; Map of Proposed Boundary Creek Road closure area