Thanks to a lighter-than-usual snowpack in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, the snow has been plowed from the nearly 50-mile Bear Camp Coastal Route between Galice and Agness.

By Paul Fattig

For the Tidings

Thanks to a lighter-than-usual snowpack in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, the snow has been plowed from the nearly 50-mile Bear Camp Coastal Route between Galice and Agness.

The road itself, however, is not yet open for public use, cautioned Patty Burel, spokeswoman for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

"We still need to remove some hazard trees," she said, noting that forest road crews will be working on the road. "We'll also need to drive the road to ensure it is safe for public travel."

The windy mountain stretch, formerly known as Bear Camp Road, is expected to be open for public travel no later than May 22, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, she said.

"Depending on the conditions we find, the road could open sooner," she said. "But the road is not open at this point. We are still removing hazards."

Road crews from the Oregon Department of Transportation began removing snow Tuesday. Because of the relatively light snowpack, they were able to start at the Bear Camp overlook, a site about half a dozen miles farther west than where they usually start. The plowing was completed late Wednesday evening, he said.

The drifts were only three to four feet high at the higher elevations along the route, making it a moderate to light year, said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming.

"There was a lot of space between drifts where there was no snow," Leaming said. "There was relatively light snow up there this year."

About 37 miles of the road lies within national forest boundaries. Another 12 miles is on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District.

The road is heavily used by recreational drivers and as a shuttle route by those floating the whitewater on the wild and scenic stretch of the Rogue River. The Memorial Day weekend is the traditional beginning of a recreation season that stretches into the fall until snow closes the road.

The route is not maintained from Nov. 5 up to Memorial Day weekend. Several people attempting to take the route during that period have run into trouble.

Just last month, a Grants Pass area woman and her dog were stranded overnight after her car became stuck in the snow. She was able to walk out for help, but in December of 2006 James Kim of San Francisco died of exposure while seeking help for his family after their car bogged down in the snow. The Kims were apparently unaware the road is closed in winter and not a main highway.

Last year, the Forest Service and the BLM added six new large signs, two informational kiosks and a series of mile markers along the route to help drivers unfamiliar with the mountain road. The first kiosk is at the beginning of BLM Road 34-8-36 near the junction of Galice Road; the second at the road's spur on Bear Camp Road, where the Kims took a wrong turn.

When the road does open, drivers should drive cautiously, Burel said. There are places where the road is narrow and rocks sometimes tumble onto the surface.

"We don't recommend that people in large recreational vehicles like motor homes or pulling trailers use this route," she said. "They should use Highway 199."

That's the main highway from Grants Pass through the Illinois Valley down through the Smith River Canyon to the coast.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.