Two of the most popular destinations in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area are getting major infrastructure upgrades, and the improvements began opening to the public last week.
When completed, the changes will overhaul the way cars, pedestrians and cyclists get around the Redfish Lake complex and relocate a campground and boat ramp at Stanley Lake.
Here’s a rundown on the projects:
That seemingly out-of-place roundabout on the way to Redfish Lake south of Stanley now has a purpose. The new road servicing the Redfish Outlet Campground, Sandy Beach Boat Launch and other east-shore destinations opened last week, splitting from traffic headed to Redfish Lake Lodge, Glacier View Campground and Point Campground.
The new road is part of a multi-phase project to improve the roads and trails at one of the most popular recreation destinations in Idaho. The old road that ran from Glacier View to Outlet is being converted to a pedestrian and cyclist path.
“The goal is to open up more of the lakeshore to people than to cars,” said Matt Phillips, a landscape architect for the Sawtooth National Forest. “The other rationale is to get some of the road out of the lower wetland areas.”
An earlier project pulled the main access road from Idaho 75 away from Redfish Lake Creek, inserted a new bridge across the creek and added the roundabout in preparation for the road that was added this year.
The new road climbs a hill while wrapping to the east side of the lake. The unexpected consequence: a fresh view of the Sawtooths.
“The views that you get off this new route of the Sawtooth Range behind the lake is amazing,” Phillips said. “It opens up a view of the range you don’t get from anywhere else in the developed lakeshore complex.”
Work continues on the Outlet day-use area, where the parking lot will be disturbed deeper into the summer. Future plans include more trails to move pedestrians and cyclists around the complex, and parking lot upgrades.
And perhaps the biggest improvement coming to Redfish Lake will break ground in August, with an estimated completion of fall 2019. The Stanley to Redfish Lake trail will be 4.4 miles of compacted gravel and be open to pedestrians, cyclists and equestrian users. It will be available for snow machines in the winter, Phillips said.
Users of the new trail initially would need to use the Redfish Lake road system to reach it. But the long-term plan calls for a non-motorized trail connecting the lakefront to the new trail. The idea is to create a trail system that “connects to all the places (visitors) want to go,” Phillips said.
“You see people ride bikes down the highway,” he said. “It’s kind of scary when the (drivers) are there looking at the mountains. This will be a really nice alternative to move between these two primary places in the Sawtooth Valley, Redfish and Stanley. That’s where everyone wants to go.
“... Once we get all these pieces in place, I think the public is going to love it. They’re going to be able to move around much more efficiently in the complex, especially when we get all the trail components in place. It’s going to be a whole new experience.”
The Forest Service is putting the finishing touches on an expansion of the Stanley Lake Campground, which will allow crews to tear out the Stanley Lake Inlet Campground and return that area to its prior function as a wetlands. The project also will relocate the boat ramp, moving it from the wetlands, and fold Lake View Campground into Stanley Lake Campground. The total number of campsites available at the lake 8 miles northwest of Stanley won’t change.
The new campsites could be available next month; the rest of the project should be mostly completed by the end of this season. The road to the current boat ramp often is flooded, as it was last week. Visitors still will be able to access the gravel bar at the old boat ramp by foot.
The Inlet campground also tended to flood, limiting availability.
“The road that heads over there cuts directly across the wetland, a large wetland complex that empties into the lake,” Phillips said. “A lot of times that road is under water and impassable. We’ve had cars stuck in the pond that is the road. People will try it. They know there’s a road there; they just don’t know how deep it is. It’s a tough place for a road, a tough place to keep open in the spring, tough to maintain — and it’s restricting natural water sources.”
The Inlet campsites were built on fill dirt. That dirt will be removed to restore the wetlands, preventing anyone from using the old sites. That won’t happen until the new Stanley Lake sites open.