Notes from Windward: #59

A Sign of Change to Come

the first sign of change
Windward is located some three miles back from, and some 1,200 feet in elevation above, the beautiful, winding Klickitat river. The road that covers this distance has been one of the major impediments to development in our area. It was a gravel road, narrow in places, and often deeply rutted from the passage of heavy logging trucks. Sometimes our road seemed like a two-mile long speed bump.

We've long thought of the road as our "vertical moat." It formed a "permiable barrier" to people wanting to move into our area. While we're not "anti-newcomers," being relatively newcomers to the area ourselves, but we're also not unaware of the problems that come with an influx of outsiders to an intensely rural area.

Folks from California have been steadily moving into this area, flush with money from the sale of their previous home, and buy up land and build awesome neo-cabins along the river. It's only been the ruggedness of our road that has kept the lands around Windward from developing into homesites, and so we've looked at the county's decision to go ahead with a massive improvement program with mixed emotions.

putting in the main culverts
The primary problem with developing the land around us involves the question of water. Without a suitable supply of potable water, land isn't worth very much, and lots of folks who are used to having the city supply their needs fail to take into account the "make it or break it" quality of the water issue.

Our first well produced only three gallons of water per hour, and you can sweat faster than that on a hot, summer day. For our first three years, we had to haul water from a neighbor's well in order to water our animals, wash our clothes and bathe. It was an experience that stands our strongly in our mind, and we wouldn't want to wish that on anyone. It hasn't been a problem for unaware city folk, because for the most part they were too freaked out by the hill to even get around to worrying about water issues.

It's a safe bet to suggest that the reconstruction of the road will end that era, and inaugurate a new era up here on the Wahkiacus Heights. Improving the road is something that's been on the county's "Five Year Plan" for more than a decade, so it's been a running joke for quite a while. A former county commissioners once told me that Wahkiacus Heights was unique in that it was the only area that wasn't lobbying for a cut of the county road budget.

they're really big culverts
The most massive step in the process involved the installation of two great culverts at the point where Wahkiacus creek flows under the road. It was quite exciting to watch the "really big" equipment ripping up the road bed in such a way as to minimize the time that the road was closed to traffic. For all practical purposes, that road is the only way up the breaks, so the work had to be done quickly and accurately. I was most impressed.

The next task was to widen the road base. In places the road was too narrow, and in other places, the uphill bank made it difficult to see around corners and spot oncoming traffic. By tearing down the uphill bank, and dumping it downhill, they were able to address both problems at once.

The next step was to build up the roadbed itself. That involved bringing hundreds of dumptruck loads of crushed rock down to build up the road bed another foot higher, and in some places almost two feet higher. This new base was sloped on the corners to make them more stable.

the new broader road bed
Once the heavy crushed rock was in place, they started layering progressively finer rock on top of that to create a really strong roadbed. A team of water trucks and steam rollers worked for weeks to compact and solidify the road bed until it was marvelously smooth.

With the road bed in place, the next step was to bring up trucks of hot asphalt. Sprayer trucks put down a coating of the liquified material, which was immediately top dressed with a layer of fine gravel, a process called "chip sealing." Another pass with the steam rollers, and the road surface was complete.

The crowning touch is the installation of guard rails along the most precipitous parts of the hill. I must admit that the new guard rails look really neat, and I expect that they'll provide some comfort to flat-land drivers.

In the fifty years that folks have been driving up and down this road, there's only been one accident where a car went over the side and someone got hurt. Nothing too major, the driver got knocked around a bit when the car rolled over a couple of times before coming to rest against a tree, but that's it.

we're even getting guard rails
In defense of the guardrails, we're already seeing folks speeding up their driving to the point where it's only a matter of time before someone finds themselves up close and personal with the guardrail. When going downhill on a gravel surfaced road, speed can be very deceptive, and folks can be out of control without realizing it.

All in all, the road is an impressive piece of work. The county road department says that they spent about $330,000 on the work, which is less than I would have guessed given the size of the crew and the length of the project. As an outside observer, I'd guess that the county got good value for its money.

Notes Issue # 59 ---- The Windward Home Page