Torrential rains in November left some mountain roads east of Sandpoint so heavily damaged that U.S. Forest Service crews are having trouble reaching the areas to assess the problem.
Mountain bikes have been the vehicle of choice to access the washed-out roads, where some ruts are deep enough to swallow entire pickup trucks.
Repairing or relocating the roads could cost as much as $5 million, said Carolyn Upton, acting district ranger for the Forest Service’s Sandpoint district. The agency is still trying to determine the extent of the problem.
“We don’t know yet,” Upton said. “We have a lot of damage throughout the drainage.”
The scenic backcountry valley is also one of North Idaho’s most popular recreation spots. But because of safety concerns, vehicles have been banned from some roads in the region, including portions of Lightning Creek, Rattle Creek, Auxor Basin, East Fork, Porcupine and Mud Creek roads.
The roads are not expected to reopen anytime soon. Repair work might not begin until 2008.
Because of the drainage’s history of powerful weather, the agency is also looking at moving the roads. The Lightning Creek Drainage near Clark Fork is known as one of the wettest valleys in Idaho’s wettest corner. But the early November storm that dumped nearly 20 inches of rain was one for the record books.
The flooding not only tore apart forest roads, it also changed the course of streams.
Some roads in this portion of the Cabinet Mountains remain open to motorized travel, including the road to Lunch Peak Lookout and trails to Lake Darling, Gem Lake and Moose Lake. Hikers and horse riders may still access the closed areas, but Upton said washouts are still occurring and conditions remain unpredictable.
For the latest information, contact the Sandpoint Ranger office at (208) 263-5111.