USFS Ranger Mary DeAguero has proposed reconstruction of 13 miles of Road 39, also known as the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway Loop.

The project is estimated to cost approximately $1.5 million said Dana Taylor, assistant forest engineer for the Wallowa Whitman National Forest. "We hope that by getting the project done all in one summer we can see some cost-cutting and efficiencies that allow us to do it for under $2 million."

The circuitous Loop 39 section allows access to several mountain campgrounds, broad vistas, sightings of bear and deer and other wildlife, and access to the stunning Hells Canyon Overlook. The road, which is used by snowmobilers and is part of the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race course in the winter, opens as soon as the snow can be cleared and winter blow-down removed, usually in May. During the summer and fall motorcycles, bicycles, campers, motor homes and cars slowly traverse the winding road.

It is part of an All-American Scenic Byway, which stretches from La Grande, through Wallowa, Enterprise, Halfway and on to Baker City.

Repair of the road has long been on the wish lists of local Forest Service, business communities and County government.

"The Scenic Byway Program itself is one of our biggest attractions, it's known nationally and internationally," said Vicki Searles, director of the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce.

"It's important to the well-being of Wallowa County and all of the other counties," said County Commissioner Susan Roberts. "It's a beautiful drive, when you can make it."

As an All-American Scenic Byway, it has been recognized as nationally significant with unique features not available anywhere else - and is a tourist destination in and of itself that is meant to provide "a high degree of user comfort and convenience," according to the rules of the designation.

The deteriorating condition of Road 39 does not meet that objective, according to DeAguero.

DeAguero is ranger for the Eagle Cap District and Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. She has submitted a request for funding to reconstruct approximately 13 miles of Road 39 beginning at the junction of FS Road 66 and proceeding to the junction of Oregon Route 86. It's about 13 miles of road that parallels North Pine Creek. Public review of the Environmental Assessment of the project will begin in May. Barring unforeseen opposition, construction would begin in 2011, according to Taylor.

The proposed project includes road reconditioning or replacing the road surface, clearing the roadside of vegetation, cleaning and reconditioning existing ditches, cleaning/replacing existing culverts, installing ditch relief culverts, and improvement of road surface drainage. Some instream work will be necessary but heavy equipment will operate from the roadbed.

Road reconditioning will entail removing the existing pavement, grinding it and then paving over it. The soft areas in the road will be dug out and reconstructed. Rock will be brought in from the Lonesome rock pit, or Dutchman/Grace Creek pit.

During construction traffic will be restricted to one lane and a pilot car will guide traffic. Delays of up to one hour are expected.

So far comment concerning the proposal has been positive, according to Alicia Glassford, project coordinator. "We have had nothing but positive input," she said.

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