INDEX — Bruce Kimball still remembers the storm.
The November 2006 rainstorm was biblical, Kimball remembered. Hour after hour, rain streamed from the sky.
“It was nothing but rain,” Kimball said. “I should have been building an ark.”
He was stranded at his cabin for weeks before getting out.
Seventeen years later, the mood was joyful Saturday aboard a school bus shuttling property owners, Index residents and county employees to a reopened 1-mile section of Index-Galena Road.
Residents have been without normal access since the 2006 flooding wiped out a section of the road, stranding some people for weeks. The damage made it much more difficult for property owners to access their holdings. Drivers could take a 40-mile detour using Beckler River Road, but the route shredded tires and added hours to their trips.
“Today was the best day in 17 years,” said Mick Meissner, who owns a cabin and sliver of property along the Skykomish River’s North Fork, along with her husband, Gary. “It’s a godsend that this is open.”
The new section of Index-Galena Road is smoother, and finally connects Index with expanses of the Wild Sky Wilderness and other parts of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest that have been hard to access for almost two decades. The project cost approximately $29 million, and construction took place over a three-year period.
The road was moved up the river bank 80 vertical feet. Rock and soil excavation totaled 52,500 cubic yards. A massive retaining wall spans the length of the new road as it hugs the side of the slope. Almost 5,000 feet of guardrails were installed.
Funding came, mostly, from the federal government. State and county funds were also used.
Legal issues held up construction and planning for a time, as the Sno-King Watershed Council appealed the shoreline permits to a state board in 2019. The appeals were struck down and the road is now widened and paved. There is a new 180-foot bridge. Asphalt from the old washout was removed and new culverts were placed. Trees were planted and habitat was restored.
Two campsites in particular — Troublesome Creek Campground and San Juan Campground — will now be far easier to get to. Blanca Lake will be too, with its stunning turquoise waters.
County Council member and state Rep. Sam Low spoke at the ribbon-cutting, as did county Executive Dave Somers.
“I’m looking forward to next year at Blanca Lake, I see it all the time from the airplane, you look down and you can see that beautiful turquoise,” Low said. “You can count on it this next spring, I’m going to get up and hike along the lake.”
Index Mayor Norm Johnson is also excited about newly available recreational opportunities.
“For my own selfish reasons, I love to hunt and fish, so I don’t have to drive around anymore,” Johnson said. “I can access it right out of town and cruise right on up. It’s been a long time since I’ve done the whole complete route.”
The road relocation required extensive cooperation between federal, state and local authorities. It was moved out of the floodplain, and in order to do that, it had to go through Forest Service property.
There is some lingering worry about increased visitors to the area.
“I’m a little concerned about what impacts we might have to the Wild Sky with increased access, but that’s part of the deal,” said Joe Neal, district ranger for the Skykomish Ranger District within Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. “We want people out to enjoy the wilderness and reconnect with nature.”
Neal said visitors to the area should remember the essentials checklist, including appropriate footwear, maps, extra food, extra water, extra clothing, emergency items, a first aid kit, a multi-tool or knife and sun protection.
Before the new road, first responders often had to use all-terrain vehicles to get to emergencies in remote areas, Sky Valley Fire Chief Eric Andrews said.
“Having this open is going to cut a lot of time off,” Andrews said. “Before we had to come around the Skykomish side and it’s going to give us a lot better access.”
Andrews said a grant to add Wi-Fi hotspots along the road will help improve response time. He’s worried too about what increased traffic will bring — hiking injuries, medical emergencies at campgrounds and drownings.
Many kayakers frequent the area and several SUVs with boats were already traveling Index-Galena Road on Saturday.
Improved access will benefit local property owners, like Kimball, who said it will now be far easier to get to his place. Prior to the repairs, it was a challenge to get to his property — it included bushwacking, hiking, and crossing the Skykomish River.
He’s kept his website, Skyko.org, updated with local conditions as well as road updates. Prior to the grand unveiling on Saturday morning, he had a countdown clock running with the time left until Snohomish County opened the road.
Kimball said property owners in the area have become used to the quiet. But everyone is glad the road is finally finished.
“Everybody talks about how nice it was, with the peace and quiet, the isolation,” Kimball said. “It’s been unique and interesting and enjoyable as well, but it isn’t practical for the long haul. We’re not always going to be young enough to come in on snowshoes and rock hop the river.”