(Kimberly Vardeman, Flickr Creative Commons)

(Kimberly Vardeman, Flickr Creative Commons)

Construction began last week on the Dyea Flats Road outside Skagway. And while the construction closures are sure to be a minor inconvenience, locals will get a safer road and some free firewood out of the deal.

The Dyea Road is well known as a narrow, winding path with a stretch that features a rock face on one side and a drop into the salt water on the other. But the National Park Service, with the help of Federal Highways, is hoping to continue improvements on the historic road to make it a little less of a white-knuckle ride.

Tim Steidel is the chief ranger for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. He says the road has suffered a lot of damage over the years.

“It’s never really been designed to proper federal highway standards, even the minimal standards for a rough, unpaved road. So it continues to see drainage issues and pretty heavy use with the combined traffic of bicycles, vehicles and horses.”

Last week, NPS crews began the first phase of a federally funded project to improve the park portion of the road and the public access between the Slide Cemetery and the Lost Lake Trailhead. The stretch is about two-miles total. According to the service, the goal is to improve the road surface and drainage, as well as raise the road surface and add more culverts. The plan also includes making wider turnouts for safer passing.

The first phase includes cutting trees and brush to make the area more accessible for crews. The path between the Slide Cemetery and Lost Lake trailhead will close until that portion is complete.  More trees will be cut starting on Oct. 19 between the state-maintained portion and the Cemetery. Motorists can expect up to 30-minute delays. The road will remain open during the evenings and overnight.

The first phase is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

And while all the buzzing and sawing and delays might get a tiresomeness, Steidel says there is a silver lining:  Free firewood.

“Firewood is a premium around here and we do have two stagings planned with this project,” he said. “With phase one, we have a date on Oct. 16, Friday and again on Friday, Oct. 30. A pretty good significant amount of the timber that comes out of the project will be staged.”

The wood, cut into 16-foot lengths will be piled near the turnoff, just before the West Creek bridge for locals to haul away.

Currently the road is used by residents and tour operators who offer rafting, hiking and backpacking, dogs sled tours, zip lining and horse rides in the remote spot. And with more and more traffic, the road is in rough shape.

“Phase two of this project is going to be the actual improvement to the road surface and roadbed itself starting in the spring of next year,” he said. “There has been a big increase in vehicular traffic associated with a lot of the public use activities out there including some of the public use activities.”

Steidel says that he doesn’t see the number of vehicles increasing much more, though the road improvements might lure larger means of transportation. The project has been in the works for about a year and when all is said done, it’ll be about two years before it’s complete.

The second phase will happen in May, just as the tourism season gets underway.