November 24, 2011 by wcobserver
WASHINGTON COUNTY – Folklore has numerous ways of predicting the harshness of the oncoming winter; the shovel-shaped seed of a persimmon, for instance, or the thick growth of hair on a cow’s nap.
These days, however, there’s a surer sign of the approaching winter conditions – piles of limestone chips along the road. But they don’t spring up magically. It’s the work of the Washington County Road Department, which has been begun preparing for the area’s infamous and icy conditions in the past few weeks.
So what’s the overall strategy for winter road crew? It’s fairly simple, actually.
“We just try to prepare for the worst,” said Assistant Road Superintendent Shawn Strum. “A lot of times, when the snow comes, it would be a waste of our time and money to go out before the storm is over. So a lot of times we just have to wait and do what we can.”
While the larger cities like Springdale, Fayetteville and Prairie Grove have their own services to clear the roads of ice and snow, the smaller parts of the Washington County depend on Strum and his team.
Between dirt and paved roads in the unincorporated areas of Washington County, the winter crew has to clear about 930 miles, said Strum. As a result, the department’s other big concern apart from preparing equipment for the year is coordinating the clearing efforts once the roads become hazardous.
As soon as the snow hits, partnered street crew already know exactly which routes their assigned to clear and how to go about opening those roads up according to priority. The half-inch limestone chips strategically placed near particularly nasty areas for drivers to shovel a little traction under their cars should they have any trouble during any other time. The plows and graters, too, have all been serviced and are ready to go, said Strum. Now comes the really hard part comes.
“[It’s a matter of] waiting,” Strum said, “and trying to determine when we can go out and the snow’s not going to cover up what we’ve done. Or trying to figure out the weather, or outguess the weather, is a challenge a lot of the time.”
As prepared as the team is and as ready as they are to go on a moment’s notice, there is one, perpetually unsolvable issue when winter weather hits — residents suffering cabin fever.
“A lot of people, if they’re at the end of a route, they’re the last ones to get their road plowed,” Strum said. “It would be so inefficient and hard for us to jump around, but we always get those phone calls of people wanting to come to their road first.”
Strum said the best thing for residents to do was to simply stay inside and wait for the winter cavalry. And driving is that much more dangerous when the team is forced to share the road with an impatient, and ill-equipped car.
“We know what we got to do,” Strum said. “Our job is to clear the roads so people can get out. It’s about going out and doing it, and doing it as quick as we can while being safe.”