Blockages abound in Black Canyon

Jerry Branning stands in front of a rockslide about 1½ miles above Pete Ott Creek along the North Fork of the Clearwater River in Black Canyon.

Passage through the shady Black Canyon along the North Fork of the Clearwater River could resume by the end of the month.

The backcountry route on the North Fork Ranger District of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, a popular destination with anglers and campers, was severed when a rockslide spilled across the 250 Road last winter. The slide blocked direct travel between Kelly Forks on the southwestern end of the canyon and the Cedars Campground and Hoodoo Pass on the northeastern end. The slide has remained in place all summer, requiring people who wish to access either side of it to go around the canyon via the 255 Road along Kelly Creek and over Deception Saddle.

Crews from Orofino-based Debco Construction recently started to clear the tons of rocky debris. North Fork District Ranger Andrew Skowlund said a bit of serendipity allowed the work to get started this summer.

In 2017, a rain-on-snow event led to a series of landslides across the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, including some on the North Fork District that damaged roads. Skowlund said the forest was able to tap into emergency funding through the Federal Highway Administration to help clear those slides.

“Lo and behold, the process takes a lot longer than expected,” said Skowlund, who added the would-be emergency funding to fix road damage from the 2017 slides didn’t arrive until this year.

Debco won a contract to do the work.

“Debco has the equipment out there, they have the expertise to be able to repair the slide in Black Canyon, and we were able to work out an agreement with them where they would remove and repair the slide in Black Canyon while they were dealing with that other contract work,” Skowlund said.

In a second bit of serendipity, Skowlund said the construction company will be able to use much of the rocky debris it hauls out of Black Canyon as material in other projects.

The slide debris, consisting mostly of large rocks, will be hauled to Kelly Forks Work Center and crushed.

“It actually worked out really well. Otherwise we would need to find someplace to dump that material,” Skowlund said. “If we can repurpose it and use it to repair some other existing slides all the better.”

The section of the 250 Road through the canyon, while blocked by the slide and earlier by avalanches, hasn’t been administratively closed. Skowlund said that may change during the work to give construction workers room to maneuver and keep people safe.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.