JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. – With the seasonal closure of many mountain roads comes a reminder to travelers: don’t forget to use common sense when using driving directions from GPS or cell phone map apps! Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) search and rescue (SAR) deputies have already responded to calls involving people who followed directions provided by their phone’s mapping system – and ended up stranded on closed or unmaintained roads.
Many forest roads are closed to cars during the winter months. An example is National Forest Road 37 – a popular route during the summer that connects drivers from Highway 140 near Fish Lake to the Ashland area via Dead Indian Memorial Road. The road is not maintained or patrolled and is closed to motor vehicle traffic, as indicated by several signs posted on either end.
“It may look like a shortcut on a map, but in the winter, Forest Road 37 is essentially a snowmobile trail. It is not to be used by regular vehicles,” said JCSO Sergeant Shawn Richards.
Sergeant Richards says much of the road closure area is also outside of cell phone range, making it difficult or impossible to call for help. And because the road is closed, someone who becomes stranded there likely won’t encounter a passerby.
The same is the case for many forest roads in Jackson County. They are not plowed or otherwise maintained through the winter months. Sergeant Richards says it’s best to stick to highways and heavily traveled roads.
Drivers are reminded to be prepared for an emergency any time they are driving in the winter. Keep food, water, blankets, and other gear in your vehicle. Start your trip with a full tank of gas. Before you start driving, check the weather forecast as well as road conditions on your planned route (tripcheck.com).
Prevention is the key to staying safe on winter roads. But even if you find yourself experiencing a bout of bad luck, it does not necessarily warrant a call to SAR. For example, if your vehicle gets stuck in snow or mud, it may not be a true emergency.
“If you know where you are, you’re uninjured, and you’re able to use your cell phone, it’s more appropriate to call for a tow truck than to call 911,” said Sergeant Richards.