Staying safe on backcountry roads

Snow on backcountry roadOfficials are reminding visitors to the Willamette National Forest that they will encounter a wide range of driving conditions from now through spring. Many roads, especially those in higher elevations, have already become impassable due to snow.

Forest Service roads are not maintained for winter travel. This includes popular and scenic double-lane, paved roads such as Forest Highway 19 (North Fork Road/Aufderheide Drive), Forest Highway 46 (Breitenbush Road), and Forest Highway 21 (Middle Fork Road).

Visitors should be aware that even a few inches of snow can obscure icy roads and soft shoulders where vehicles can easily get stuck. Winter storms can trigger unexpected rock slides, as well as falling limbs and trees, which can cause roads to become impassable in a matter of minutes.
“Winter offers visitors so many ways to enjoy the Forest, especially for those who like to snowmobile, ski, snowshoe, or look for their perfect holiday tree,” said Matt Peterson, Recreation Staff Officer for the Willamette National Forest. “The following tips can help you prepare for a safe visit.”
• Plan for the unexpected
• Check the latest road and weather conditions
• Let someone know where you’re going
• Carry an emergency kit in your vehicle
Also, be prepared to spend long periods of time in the car. Blankets or sleeping bags, warm clothes, a snow shovel, water, food and other necessities are recommended as part of a complete vehicle emergency kit. Good snow tires, a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and chains are advised when driving in wintry conditions. As a general rule, always adjust your speed to current conditions and drive at speeds that allow you to stop in half of the visible road distance ahead of you. Don’t forget to fuel up at the beginning of your trip.
Although GPS systems are valuable tools for navigating forest roads, they cannot always be relied on to provide the safest routes based on current conditions. A GPS system can easily lead you to a route that is impassable due to snow. Keep in mind that cell phones are not likely to work in remote areas.
Visit or call the McKenzie River Ranger District McKenzie Bridge office (541-822-3381) for the latest updates regarding weather, snow levels, and driving conditions. Current conditions and helpful links for planning trips are also available on the Willamette National forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/willamette/conditions. For regular updates regarding road conditions on state highways that serve as mountain passes visit Tripcheck, which is offered by Oregon Department of Transportation at www.tripcheck.com.

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