Kicking the can down the road
The July 1 edition of “The Sheet” contained a very inaccurate statement in the section “Local Briefs.” The statement was made relative to the opening of the Reds Meadow road: “This will be the first time the road will not open by Independence Day.”
I have access to official records of the opening and closing days for this road that span from 1970 to 1998. This record shows July 1 openings in 1972, 1973, and 1980; July 2 in 1982; these dates showing years when the road was not open for the entire July 4 holiday. As for openings later than July 4, the road opened on July 15 in 1983 and July 7 in 1995. The snowpack in 2017 is just above the amount experienced in 1983 and the opening date that year serves as a good comparison. The 1994-1995 winter also had the longest period of closing, as the road was first closed on October 4 and did not open until July 7. As a side note, there were campgrounds and other facilities in the Mammoth Lakes Basin and the Reds Meadow/Devils Postpile area that did not open until late July and August in 1995. For example, Lake George Campground did not open until July 22 that year.
The 2017 snowpack presents challenges that were not experienced in 1983 or 1995, with one of these challenges being the wear and tear on a road not designed or constructed to be opened as early as has been in the last 37 years. The roadbed and pavement thickness is not adequate to withstand the heavy traffic on the road while the road bed is still wet. The average thickness of the pavement is only 2 inches as compared to the 7-8 inch thickness of SR 203 above the town of Mammoth Lakes.
Other inadequacies of the 1979 paving of the Reds Road include the lack of soil retaining structures in the loose pumice soils of the grade between Minaret Summit and the Agnew Meadows road turnoff. The other shortcoming is the thickness and compaction requirements of the road bed. The large, heavy buses being used for day use visitors now were not envisioned when the road was paved in 1979. The goal of that design was to eliminate dust and washboarding of the dirt surface, two hazards that had greatly increased when traffic increased enormously from the late 1960s through the 1970s.
I was the Frontcountry Recreation Supervisor on the Mammoth Ranger District, Inyo National Forest from 1988 to 1998. I was very much involved in the decisions made and work accomplished to maintain this road. There are obvious commercial factors involved in this effort, however, the result was always a “kicking the can down the road” attitude when observing the deterioration of the road on an annual basis. It was my experience that very few people wanted to acknowledge its deterioration; instead they focused on how early the road could be opened and how late it could be closed. It is now obvious that we can’t ignore the problem and continue to kick the can down the road.
U.S. Forest Service 1974-1999,