The Wallowa County Roads department received another boost recently when it learned that a grant written for money to resurface the Zumwalt Road was about to be released. Phase I of the project is expected to begin April 1, 2019.
Wallowa County Commissioners applied for the grant from Western Federal Land Access back in 2015 at the same time as their application for funds to work on the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road (39 Road).
“We didn’t get it at that time, but they contacted us later and told us if we still wanted the money, we could be considered,” said County Commissioner Susan Roberts.
The $708,000 grant the county eventually won will pay for crushing 76,000 cubic yards of rock taken from the Hohn Pit on Zumwalt Road, located on property owned by the Dan Probert family.
“That’s a lot of rock,” said Roberts.
The rock is sufficient to produce six inches of aggregate to be compressed to four inches on a 24-foot wide road from milepost 2.5 to milepost 23.5 up the Zumwalt Road. Shoulders, ditches and culverts will be improved as well.
A contractor will do the rock crushing work and the county will do the roadwork.
The county owns those 21 miles of the Zumwalt Road up to U.S. Forest Service land, but other than seeing to it the road was bladed, the county has been unable to finish the road in the manner envisioned decades ago.
At the time the road was built, the intention was to pave it for the benefit of logging traffic, so the road prism was built for paving.
That paving project never materialized and the gravel began migrating. Now there is severe wash-boarding, the berms are filled with debris and ditches need to be readdressed.
Rebuilding the gravel road will take time, said Roberts.
“We have an 11-man crew and 400 miles of gravel roads to maintain,” she said. “The plan is that they will build the 21 miles of Zumwalt three miles a year over seven years.”
The county was required to come up with matching funds in the amount of $72,802. The final tally of costs over the next seven years is unknown.
“This is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” said Roberts.“A lot of property owners live up that road, and it’s a main route to that section of Forest Service land. It’s a popular area.”
Also up the Zumwalt Road is the 33,000-acre Zumwalt Prairie Preserve, owned by The Nature Conservancy. It is Oregon’s biggest private nature sanctuary; supports sustainable livestock grazing; and sales of landowner hunting tags have raised over $300,000 for Wallowa County charities over the years.
Jeff Fields, project manager for the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve, has been following the grant process and was pleased to hear the project would start in the spring — even if the road wouldn’t reach his area for several years.
“This will benefit a lot of ranchers and residents,” he said. “There’s a new interest group of visitors and tourists to the area and that improved access will benefit them, too.”