Beware of Muddy, Soft Forest Roads

Contact(s): Leona Rodreick, Molly Ryan, Gordon Ash

As snow melts and rain begins to fall across Southwest Montana this spring, Forest Service officials are concerned about very soft and muddy roads.

“We love our back country routes and enjoy getting out to explore them, however, soft roads are easily damaged by vehicle traffic and are very expensive to fix,” Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF Engineer Morgan Sandall said.

“From time to time we may have to close roads this spring so they don’t get rutted and damaged,” he said.

Some routes are temporarily closed this time of year anyway, but additional roads may need to be closed until they dry out this year, Sandall said.

In the Big Hole, Molly Ryan, the Forest Service Ranger in Wisdom, noted that each year, starting May 15, snowmobiles are prohibited in the high country of the west Big Hole, south of Big Hole Pass and in the center of the West Pioneer Mountains. The late spring snowmobile ban has been in effect since 1993, she said.

“Until then, chained-up vehicles trying to reach the snow really tear up soft roads,” she said.

“When roads get rutted, water in the ruts only increases erosion,” she said.  “People driving around drifts into wet meadows do a lot of damage next to the road,” she said.

Over in Madison County, Recreation Officer Gordon Ash said many roads in the Gravelly and Snowcrest ranges are closed until July 2.

“We close some of our roads from April 1 to July 2 to avoid this very thing,” he said.

“We still find people breaking through snow drifts, and driving onto roads that may still have gates open, but are legally closed,” Ash said.

The Forest Service opens road gates for snowmobiles, and then tries to close them all during the spring thaw period, but sometimes can’t reach the gates in time before travelers drive on them, causing rutting problems, Olson said.

Officials reminded travelers to carry a current Forest Service travel map, showing which roads are open at this time of year.

“Just because you don’t see a sign or a gate doesn’t mean a road is legally open,” Morgan Sandall, Forest Engineer in Dillon said.  “Use the map to make sure you’re driving in areas where roads are legally open.

For more information, consult a Forest Service map or call the nearest Forest Service office.