An unexpected benefit of the paved road became apparent after two snow storms in early December left 6″ of snow on the Middle Fork road. Snow like this is not unusual, but typically doesn’t stick around on the valley floor very long and the road slowly becomes more accessible as trucks and other high clearance vehicles create ruts.
So it was surprising to many visitors that King County plowed the road on Monday, December 12 and then again in the morning on Tuesday. The plowing went as far as the Middle Fork trailhead, including the parking areas there and most of the parking pullouts along the road up to that point. Beyond the trailhead, driving was significantly more difficult because of deep ruts and the monster potholes that begin at the Taylor River bridge. Some vehicles were getting farther up the road, but not all (see photo below). With expected cold weather in mid December the slushy snow will turn to ice. Warmer weather is forecast before Christmas and the road will thaw out but continuing snow accumulation will continue to make it challenging to drive to the Dingford trailhead.
Plowing on both Monday and Tuesday made for an easy drive despite the heavy snow accumulation
The plowing extended all the way to the Middle Fork trailhead, including the various pullouts along the road
The Middle Fork trailhead would have been inaccessible without plowing. The bathroom is open but not serviced in the winter so bring your own TP.
Beyond the Middle Fork trailhead the road was not plowed and only passable to high clearance vehicles with good traction
Taylor River bridge potholes before the most recently snow storm. They can be slippery and difficult to drive through when traction is reduced by slush and deeper snow.
Whether walking or driving, winter in the Middle Fork can be beautiful. Here the sun shines through cold fog at the Taylor River bridge.
This Chevy Trailblazer tried to drive up Hell Hill and ended up stuck in a muddy ditch. Later his friends came in a pickup to pull the vehicle out.
In September, 2016 the remaining section of Middle Fork road was paved, from Valley Camp to Champion Beach. A short section at the problematic cliffs near Champion Beach will be finished in 2017 under a new contract. It’s not a smooth drive all the way to the Taylor River bridge.
In the last 2 weeks of August, 3.5 more miles of the Middle Fork road were paved, from Champion Beach to Big Blowout Creek. Weather permitting, project management expects to pave the rest of the road to Valley Camp before the end of construction for this year on October 31, 2016.
3.5 miles paved in August, 2016
New pavement in progress with asphalt trucks coming out
Second layer of asphalt being applied
A worker cleans years of accumulated cruft from the concrete bridge rails
Just as the Middle Fork road was about to be opened for the winter season another major storm blew through resulting in yet another extension of the closure. Four inches of warm rain was recorded at Valley Camp for December 8 with an additional 1.22 inches the following day. The TANW1 gage showed a double peak, first at 25,000 cfs at 6pm on December 8 and 24,000 cfs at 5:15am on December 9.
After seeing the effects, the road closure was justified as wind gusts blew down numerous trees, mostly in the first two miles of the road above the Mailbox trailhead. About seven medium sized trees blocked the road to the Dingford trailhead and these were cleared by Friday. Reports continue to come in of blowdowns on trails, but the full impact of this series of severe winter storms may not be known until spring.
After the storm on Wednesday, December 9, a geotechnical engineer inspected the slope and Champion beach and approved opening the roadway through the slide area. There is barrier in place to catch any debris that may come down. ACI is clearing the downed trees through the project area and the road may be open to the public as early as Thurday, December 17.
The Mountain To Sound Greenway held it’s annual celebration dinner on December 2, 2015 at the Washington State Convention Center. As always they presented a series of accomplishments over the year, with the acquisition of land around Valley Camp being of interest here.
Mountain To Sound Greenway Dinner & Celebration. Photo by MTSG via Twitter
Besides that acknowledgement, each seat had a flyer on it with an appeal for contributions to support needed infrastruction in the Middle Fork valley. Pages from that flyer are reproduced here and it’s available as a PDF file from the MTSG website. If this is a cause you support, please consider donating to the MTSG which does an enormous amount of good work there.
Middle Fork 101 – Page 1
Middle Fork 101 – Page 2
Middle Fork 101 – Page 3
Of course, it was gratifying to see the use of two photos from this website’s author.
Sunbathers on rock with Garfield Mountain in the background
Possibly a stump from what may have been Washington’s biggest tree. 42.5′ circumference, 13.5′ diameter
A paving project open house was held at the North Bend Ranger Station on April 23, 2014. Several engineers from the WFLH and a representative of the contractor were present to answer questions. The event was more lightly attended than previous events, possibly because most of the decisions have already been made. This attendee put in a request to rationalize the milepost marks by starting them at the intersection of the Middle Fork Road and 468th Ave SE instead of I-90 Exit 34.
North Bend Ranger Station, the open house venue
WFLH project engineers available to answer questions
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) held an open house for local residents at the North Bend Forest Service office on Tuesday, February 26, 2013. As with the three previous open houses for the general public, the purpose was to provide information about the FHWA’s plans for the road and hearing about “your concerns such as how to reduce vehicle speed, adding safe bike lanes, safe shoulders for walking, and safe parking.”
Notes and materials from the previous open houses are posted on the paving project website, and not much new was presented at this meeting. However, the schedule is getting more definite:
2013: The project is anticipated to be awarded in the fall
2014: Active construction from late April through October
2015: Active construction from late April through October
2016: The actual paving will occur from late April through July
Construction will only take place between Monday’s at noon and end each week Friday at noon. During construction the Middle Fork Road beyond Valley Camp will be closed to all non construction vehicle traffic.
Milepost 10 bridge
For an 8 week period during the summer of 2014 the Middle Fork road will be completely closed for a bridge replacement at mile post 10. During hours of construction the Lake Dorothy road will be closed to all non construction traffic to avoid accidents.
Construction traffic will stay off the lower couplet road (SE Middle Fork). Once construction is complete the Lake Dorothy road (upper couplet road) will be repaired to the condition it was in prior to construction beginning. No upgrade or improvements will be done on either of the roads in the couplet area.
There was much discussion regarding slowing traffic down on the entire road length, access, traffic, and the exit 34 area. The design speed for the proposed project is 35 mph with an expected posted speed limit of 30 mph.
The King Countys DNS (Determination of NonSignificance) announcement follows the Federal Highway Administration’s FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact), which was released in June, and is another necessary step before work gets underway. Gotta love those government acronyms! The document includes a slightly more concrete statement about when construction will occur. “The project construction will take approximately 2.5 years between February and December subject to weather and timing restrictions to protect wildlife. It is anticipated that the project will be advertised in the fall of 2013 and that construction would begin in April 2014. The exact construction timing or schedule will be determined by the contractor.”
Nitpick: The indicated location of the three bridges to be? replaced are incorrect on this King County map. They are correct in the FONSI materials.