Forest Road 16 had degraded to the point it was difficult for vehicles to navigate, particularly those towing trailers.
“There were a lot of potholes, dips, and a lot of washboards. If you were towing a trailer that isn’t as navigable as a four-wheel drive might be, it certainly took some extra time to get up here and a little bit more care,” said Jaimie Olle, Deschutes National Forest public information officer. “We still encourage folks to drive slowly. It is still a gravel road. it’s not going to be paved or anything like that. So, we do still ask folks to drive slowly and be careful while they are making their way up here.”
The upper two miles of Forest Road 16 fell apart in recent years. Water ran down the middle of the road, creating gullies, washouts, ditches and ruts that required special care to navigate. But people kept driving on it to reach the beauty spots at the road’s end.
“This is a really popular area. It provides access to the Three Creek Lake basin that’s got three campgrounds, a trailhead out to the Tam McArthur Rim. It sees a lot of use in summer. It’s a much-loved recreation spot. We anticipate we will continue to see that recreation use up here. Hopefully, it will be a smoother drive in for folks.”
Forest Service crews rebuilt Road 16 by moving material from the shoulders back into the center of the road and compacting it with a vibrating roller. The road surface was shaped into a crown, meaning a high point in the middle so that water runs off to the sides.
After all this work, it will still be a gravel road, albeit a much improved one.
“Forest Road 16 will still be a gravel road. But what we’ve come in here with a road crew to do is take the roadbed and reconstruct the prism of it so that the water will drain off and improve the drainage as a whole. Hopefully we can avoid some of the big potholes, ruts and things we’ve seen in the past,” Olle said.
“Then the road crew comes in and puts new material on top of that and finishing it off with gravel. So, it will still be a gravel road but much smoother than what we’ve seen in the past.”
Any gravel road, even a new one, will eventually turn to washboard as vehicles drive on it. Keith Mather, a nuclear physicist, proved it in 1963.
Mather assembled a contraption in which a tire connected to a central arm moved in a circle. He covered the floor with sand and sent the wheel, which was about the size of a lawnmower wheel, circling around the track.
Within a few passes, patterns of corrugation — or washboard — developed.
Any soft surface the wheel passed over — rice grains, sugar, split peas –eventually developed washboard.
“It will still be a slow drive. It’s gravel. We ask folks when they are driving on dirt or gravel roads to take it slow. That won’t change but it will be a little bit more of a smoother drive for folks,” Olle said.
The only cure for washboards is regular grading.
Now that Road 16 has been rebuilt, it can be graded. That’s something the Forest Service is pledging to do on a regular basis.