New bridge, trailhead planned for Twin Lakes

June 28, 2006 11:00 pm
Twin Lakes is nestled high in the Elkhorn Mountains west of Baker City.  (Baker City Herald file photo/S. John Collins).
Twin Lakes is nestled high in the Elkhorn Mountains west of Baker City. (Baker City Herald file photo/S. John Collins).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Tom Smit hopes to help hikers keep their socks from getting soggy when they travel a trail in the Elkhorn Mountains later this summer.

He'd like to spare their shock absorbers from a beating, too.

Smit, who works for the U.S. Forest Service, said the agency plans to build a one-log bridge where the Twin Lakes trail crosses Lake Creek.

With the bridge in place, hikers no longer will have to leap from stone to stone — a task that demands nimble feet, especially when the stones are wet and slick. Which, being set in the middle of a stream, they often are.

Plus, the Forest Service will move the trailhead so drivers no longer need to negotiate a steep, boulder-strewn stretch of road to reach the parking area.

An agency crew also will build about three-quarters of a mile of trail to connect the new trailhead to the existing path, Smit said.

Work could start as soon as mid-July, he said.

"I'm kind of excited about the project," Smit said. "It looks like it'll be a real value to the users."

The three-mile Twin Lakes trail climbs through a glacier-carved canyon and into alpine meadows rife with wildflowers to the pair of lakes just below Elkhorn Peak, about 12 air miles west of Baker City.

Forest Service officials first proposed building a bridge across Lake Creek in the late 1990s, but now the agency has set aside money to do the work, Smit said.

He said the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has $45,000 to do the work on the Twin Lakes trail and trailhead, and to build a bridge on the Pine Lakes trail north of Halfway.

Crews have to finish the Lake Creek bridge, as well as construct a ford for horses, before Aug. 31.

The Aug. 31 deadline exists because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated Lake Creek as critical habitat for the bull trout, which is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Bull trout start spawning around Sept. 1, said John Quintela, a fisheries biologist for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

The Fish and Wildlife Service bans work in critical habitat streams during the spawning season.

For instance, crews will need to toss around rocks when they build the bridge and the ford across Lake Creek. That work could temporarily muddy the water, and bull trout — and bull trout eggs — don't thrive in brown streams.

The passage of a couple of knobby-tired motorcycles can churn a steam bed into slop, too

Although the Twin Lakes trail is among the few trails in the Elkhorns open to motorcycles and other motor vehicles, Smit said Wallowa-Whitman officials might discuss, as part of a forest-wide review of vehicle rules, whether to continue that policy.

Smit said the section of rough road isn't the only reason Forest Service officials want to move the Twin Lakes trailhead.

The current parking area isn't exactly flat, either, he said.

The new trailhead is flat, and it's big enough to accommodate at least four vehicles, Smit said. He describes the design for the new trailhead as "rustic" — there won't be an outhouse.

The site is about a quarter-mile west of the current trailhead.

The section of new trail will join to the existing path near the spot where the new bridge will be built, Smit said.

Crews will "decommission" the piece of trail between the existing trailhead and the creek crossing, he said — by laying logs and placing rocks on the path to discourage people from using it.