Viewpoint: Finding common ground on a backcountry road

Mount Ashland as seen from a distance. Luke Ruediger photo
February 11, 2022

Stretch of Mt. Ashland road had only been oiled, not paved

By Jeff LaLande

It was good to see the recent (Feb. 11) Ashland.news story about the U.S. Forest Service canceling its proposal to pave Forest Service Road 20 from the ski-area parking lot out to the Grouse Gap Shelter. Road 20, past the ski area, is a wonderful stretch of what is (and long has been) essentially a “backcountry road” — one that increasing numbers of our area’s urban residents now enjoy. 

I admit that I hadn’t even heard of this proposal (nor of the pending lawsuit against it) until Feb. 10, the day before the project’s cancellation. That’s when a staff officer on the Klamath National Forest contacted me for some historical background (i.e., on whether that stretch of road had ever been paved).

I first drove on that section of road in 1969, and, since 1974, I’ve researched the history of that area and other parts of the Siskiyou Mountains. I stated to him that, to my knowledge, there had been only some oiling of Road 20’s surface, in the 1960s or 1970s, and in just a few places (likely when being used by trucks for hauling logs), but that apparently it never had been paved. During our phone call, I also suggested that paving it would be a shame — shortening that nice stretch of “backcountry experience” for visitors.

So, am I claiming that it was my suggestion that caused the Forest Service to shelve the idea? No, obviously not. That credit goes to the activist plaintiffs: Luke Ruediger, Eric Navickas and others.

Back when he was very active and vocal in the 2000s, I rarely ever found myself in agreement with Mr. Navickas. On the other hand, I’ve often nodded my head in agreement with Mr. Ruediger. (However, I definitely don’t agree with Luke’s and Dominick DellaSala’s current stand against any forest thinning in the Ashland Creek Watershed. I think that, despite all the great work that’s been done up there, the closed Douglas-fir canopy of the watershed’s lower-elevation forest still remains quite vulnerable to a large, stand-replacement fire. And, therefore, that its highly erosive, decomposed-granitic soils will remain at continued risk from potentially massive, post-fire sedimentation into the city’s Reeder Reservoir.)

Still, it’s good to have found some common ground with Luke and Eric out on Road 20.

One small quibble with a statement in the story: The Grouse Gap Shelter was not built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It is much more recent than that wonderful New Deal program of the Depression, having been built sometime around 1970. In 1936-1937 the Civilian Conservation Corps indeed did build that entire section of Road 20 along the Siskiyou Crest, from the present ski area over to the Applegate Valley. The present Forest Service road from Ashland’s Terrace Street up to Lamb’s Saddle, Four Corners, Bull Gap, etc. was part of that very same CCC-built project.

Longtime Rogue Valley resident Jeff LaLande was an archeologist and historian for the U.S. Forest Service. Email him at archandhistoryservices@gmail.com.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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