This winter's odd weather has claimed one more casualty as a large section of Skilak Lake Road in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has been closed due to poor conditions.
"It's been odd this year," said refuge manager Robin West. "We've had the same kind of situation here on Ski Hill Road (by refuge headquarters in Soldotna). There's been little rain and very little snowfall, but we've still had some mudholes open up."
From the east end, closest to Cooper Landing, the 19.1-mile gravel road is passable by two-wheel drive vehicles as far as Hidden Lake, 3.6 miles from the junction with the Sterling Highway.
From the west end, closest to Sterling, the road is passable by four-wheel drive vehicles as far as Lower Skilak Campground, 6.3 miles from the west junction with the Sterling Highway.
Road conditions quickly deteriorate past Lower Skilak Campground, and refuge staff advises against trying to tow boats or trailers into the area as several four-wheel-drive vehicles needed a tow out of the area last weekend.
Trail heads currently inaccessible by car include the Engineer Lake end of the Seven Lakes Trail, Bear Mountain Trail, Skilak Lookout Trail and Hidden Creek Trail.
Accessible trail heads, from the east end, include both Kenai River Trail and the Hideout Trail.
Jim's Landing, at the east end of Skilak Lake Road, is closed due to a bank restoration project.
"We didn't want the public to go out there without knowing there were some pretty rough conditions," said refuge operations specialist Claire Caldes.
The road, which was the original Sterling Highway, is maintained by the State Department of Transportation in conjunction with the refuge. Soldotna area foreman Bill Pool said the road was just too soft for heavy equipment right now. Pool said Tuesday the road needed another 10 to 15 days to dry out before any maintenance can be done.
"The way Mother Nature has treated us this year, with all the flooding last fall ... we've never had that road break up like this before," Pool said. "There's not a whole lot we can do to that road. Any repairs (we try) will make it worse. Some people don't like to hear that, but if we go in there with our equipment, it will just tear it up even more."
Of course, even if it's another two weeks before the road opens, that would put it right on schedule for a typical breakup season.
"Years ago, we used to close the road from Nov. 15 to May 15," Pool said. "When we had heavy snows earlier, we'd back it up to September."
Pool said he was able to drive the length of the road Monday, but said the "road closed" signs placed by refuge staff were a good idea.
"Having those signs out there now is a wise thing," Pool said. "The best thing right now, until Mother Nature starts healing herself, is to leave it closed.
"We'll get to it just as soon as we can."
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