Forest Service widens Little Box Canyon Road for snowmobile access
GSPI News Editor
A key snowmobile access to the Flat Tops north of Rifle has been preserved this winter, following accommodations made by the U.S. Forest Service.
The Forest Service had a contractor already working on the Little Box Canyon Road widen it in narrow areas so the Rifle Snowmobiling Club can continue to run a groomer on it.
The 4.5-mile road, which ascends a steep valley several miles above the Rifle Fish Hatchery, had been narrowed in sections this fall as part of a $72,000 project to install water bars in an effort to improve drainage. The project called for a 12-foot-wide road, and the club’s groomer is almost 16 feet wide.
Forest Service officials previously said the agency’s failure to ensure that the road would be wide enough for a groomer was an oversight. But they were worried whether they could change the contract in time to rectify the problem before winter set in.
Ray Langstaff, road manager on the White River National Forest, said the agency was able to write contract modifications in time.
“They were willing to work with us,” said Bob Hoffmeister, a member of the snowmobile club.
“They made it so we could get a groomer down it.”
He said the Forest Service also lowered the height of a few of the water bars, which are dips in the road designed to funnel runoff to one side. Club members say the bars are too deep, and create visibility and safety issues for snowmobilers and vehicles driving the road.
“We’re hoping they’ll take another hard look at it in the spring,” Hoffmeister said. “It’s a total mess right now.”
He said more snow is needed to help groomers fill in dips on the lower part of the road.
“It is passable with a snow machine, but there is a lot of mud showing up, which we never had before,” he said.
He worries that the water bar project will result in a heavy mud flow off the road in the spring.
Langstaff agrees that there probably will be increased runoff of sediment this spring due to the disturbance created by the project. But he maintains that in the long term, the water bars will do what they are intended to do ” reduce drainage problems on the road.
The project will be completed in the spring. Langstaff said he understands that some of the water bars will need to be cleaned out and adjusted. Also, rocks will be placed in the bottom of them.
“Once they’re hardened up they’ll work better,” he said of the water bars.
He said he doesn’t expect the change orders associated with the contract to increase the cost of the project more than about 3 to 5 percent.
He also doesn’t expect to completely eliminate the concerns of snowmobilers and other users of the roads.
“We’ll try to accommodate their use. They’re not going to be 100 percent happy; I know they won’t,” he said.
“We’re going to try to make sure we’re going to accommodate that groomer that they run up and down there.”
The club keeps its grooming equipment at the West Elk Trailhead up the Buford Road, and runs the groomer down Little Box Canyon Road to maintain a trail to the heavily used snowmobile trailhead above the fish hatchery. If the Little Box Road couldn’t be groomed, the only way for its groomer to maintain a trail to the trailhead would be via Coulter Mesa, a 25-mile detour.
Meanwhile, Hoffmeister notes that logging work has been completed for the season in the Triangle Park area above the West Elk Trailhead. That means that some roads that had been plowed for logging trucks can now be used by snowmobiles.
“We expect we will be able to groom all roads to the full extent and not worry about log trucks,” he said.
Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516
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