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.
A windstorm on the evening of January 28, 2016 was the final blow for a large rotting Sitka Spruce tree by the Bessemer Road gate, about 7 miles up the Middle Fork road. It fell across the road, completely blocking all access to the upper valley. Two early arrivals parked on the side of the road and did their planned bike ride or hike from there. But a couple heading for Goldmyer Hot Springs were determined to get through so drove back home to get a chain saw and try to get enough of the tree cut out to drive through. Soon after they started working other locals that often help with tree clearing showed up and steady progress was made clearing the 3-foot diameter tree. After about an hour a 2-person King County road crew arrived with bigger chainsaws and a truck with a winch. They were able to cut through a healthier part of the tree and drag a large section out of the way. Normally King County is not responsible for road clearing because the paving project is not done, but they came out because they were concerned that people farther up the valley might be stranded. A path was finally cleared by about 3 PM.
Big Sitka Spruce blowdown by the Bessemer Road junction
Vehicles headed up the valley are blocked
Volunteers start cutting through the rotten and splintered lower section
A King County crew showed up with bigger chainsaws and cleared a bigger and heavier section
By 3 PM a path was cleared enough for vehicles to pass
On February 5 another King County crew equipped with a big excavator returned to the spot to complete the clearing.
After delays to coordinate with patches on the upper couplet and the discovery of a surprisingly large rock, construction of the new culvert on the lower couplet is complete. Notice how deep the concrete culvert frame is and then how little is exposed above the water in the last picture. The bottom is filled with natural stream bed material so fish can pass through easily.
Crews discovered a very large boulder that needed to be removed to install the culvert.
Work crews guide the box culvert sections into place
The work crew guides a cap onto the culvert sections
The repaired culvert draining on a rainy winter day
The closure of the lower couplet culvert has been delayed, and is now scheduled for August 5-30, 2013. The delay may be related to miscoordination with the the asphalt patching work on the upper couplet road in early July.
The lower portion of the couplet road (SE Middle Fork Road) will be closed from July 8 to August 2, 2013. King County is removing a deteriorating culvert and replacing it with a new fish passable one, including streambed gravel. This culvert scores high on the drainage priority list. Scouring is present at the culvert headwall, and the bottom is heavily corroded. The upper portion of the couplet, SE Lake Dorothy Road, will remain open for through traffic as a detour route.
A room full of new and experienced weed watchers gathered at the North Bend ranger station on Sunday, June 23 for the annual King County noxious weed training program. The goal of this program is to train hikers to spot and report infestations of invasive species on public lands. Catching these areas early is key to preventing their spread, but there are far too many trails for the staff to monitor themselves. This year the Mountaineers joined forces, focusing on invasive species in Washington’s wilderness areas. For new comers, this training can be an overwhelming introduction because one weed looks pretty much the same as the next. However, by the end of the day everyone could probably distinguish a knotweed from a hawkweed. More information is available at the King County and Mountaineers weed watching sites.
Sasha Shaw, King County Noxious Weeds
The dreaded butteryfly bush
Sarah Callaghan points out an unusually large butterfly bush
The road is getting better bit by bit. Another mile had gravel added and was graded today, making it a decent ride for the first 6.2 miles (2.5 of which are paved). This probably means King County will keep going for another 1.5 miles to the yellow gate. Hopefully the Forest Service will work on the last 5 miles to the Taylor Bridge soon — even one mile in the current condition is slow and hard on cars.
Grader returning after working on another mile of road just beyond the concrete bridge
During the first few months of 2013 the Middle Fork road has been as bad as it ever gets. There have been suspicions that maybe King County was conserving maintenance dollars because of the pending construction, but that doesn’t start for another year. However, in early March the road was graded and had gravel dumped on it as far as the concrete bridge at MP 5. Beyond that it’s still terrible, only getting slightly better after crossing the Taylor River and turning south to Dingford (still some snow on that section though, but driveable).
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.