Olympic National Park Invites Public To Discuss Wilderness Stewardship Plan

Olympic National Park officials are seeking public comment on their Wilderness Stewardship Plan. NPS photo.

Mention wilderness stewardship and Olympic National Park, and people take an interest. That's why the park has rescheduled a public meeting to discuss its Wilderness Stewardship Plan -- so it can accommodate a larger crowd than expected.

A public meeting scheduled for this Thursday in Amanda Park near Lake Crescent has been pushed back a bit and moved to a larger facility to accommodate the public. The meeting, originally scheduled from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Amanda Park Library, is now scheduled to take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Lake Quinault School gymnasium located at 6130 US Hwy 101.

The public is invited to drop by any time between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to discuss the plan with park staff.

The park is also scheduling additional workshops to be held in Port Townsend, Olympia, and Aberdeen. The Port Townsend public meeting is scheduled for February 27, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Cotton Building located at 607 Water Street. Meetings in Olympia and Aberdeen will be scheduled for March; dates and times are still to be determined.

"I am very pleased we have received such broad public interest," said Olympic Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. “Public input is essential in developing the best possible plan.”

But the park's approach to wilderness stewardship is not without a measure of controversy. The park initiated this project in 1990, and returned to it again in 1994, and again in 1999. In 2002, it proposed to address wilderness stewardship in its General Management Plan, but that approach was withdrawn.

A wilderness management planner position at Olympic National Park was funded in 2010 and 2011 by the Park Service's Washington headquarters, but that funding was cut in 2012, so the process is restarting again under a new planner.

While all this planning has been under way, the park has been operating under its 1980 Backcountry Management Plan and its 1992 addendum.

More information about the park's Wilderness Stewardship Plan, public meetings, and planning process, including a public scoping newsletter, is available online at this site. Comments may also be submitted at that website or mailed to:

Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum

Attn: Wilderness Stewardship Plan

Olympic National Park

600 East Park Avenue

Port Angeles, WA 98362

Ninety-five percent of Olympic National Park was designated as wilderness in 1988, and is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Wilderness Stewardship Plan will be developed in accordance with the Wilderness Act of 1964 and analyzed through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process. In the coming weeks, a Notice of Intent to Prepare an EIS will be published in the Federal Register. The public comment period will continue for 60 days after the Federal Register notice is published.

Comments

So NPS management can afford $1.5 million (and counting) for a trail bridge in designated Wilderness at Staircase, but they couldn't afford a wilderness planner? Sounds like what they really can't afford is a Wilderness Management Plan constraining their development agenda.

Again, are outside political influences playing a part in this?

This Wilderness plan was mandated by Congress when it designated Olympic Wilderness in 1988. Lee Dalton, that's the extent of the "outside political influences" that I'm aware of.

This plan has been repeatedly delayed largely by unanticipated demands on OLYM's Planning and Environmental Compliance office. There was a series of washouts and slides on Park roads (Graves Creek, Hoh, Sol Duc, Whiskey Bend and Hurricane Ridge roads), each requiring a NEPA-compliant repair plan. The high-priority Elwha Project required a series of environmental plans and complex intergovernmental agreements for various major mitigation projects (hatchery, water treatment plants, stormwater, roads, levees). Also heavy snow damage to shelters listed on the National Register of Historic Places necessitated rehabilitation plans. Preparation of the General Management Plan demanded priority from 2001-2007. Meanwhile, a long series of "routine" NEPA plans were also completed (see OLYM's list on parkplanning.nps.gov). So although it's regrettable that this plan was repeatedly delayed, it's also understandable why.

It's true that delays in planning have materially hurt this Park. When road repairs are delayed, damage gets worse. Relationships with the County, city, concessionaires, inholders and visitors have been damaged by long delays (Spruce Railroad Trail EA is a prime example, it should have been done years earlier). But I don't know where cuts could be made to add another planner. There's a dozen unfunded Park positions unfilled right now. All aspects of Park operations have already been cut not just to the bone, but into the bone.

Tahoma, replacement of the Staircase Rapids footbridge has been sorely missed by the ten thousand Park visitors each year that used it before it was destroyed by a flood-borne logjam. It is funded by retained Park entrance fees, which it is mandated by law be spent to provide direct visitor services. Fee revenue can't be diverted to fund an internal planning position.

Is it fair to characterize replacement of a footbridge that existed for decades as "development"? Only if one believes the intent of Wilderness to exclude the ten thousand Park visitors that once used it. Alas, a few do. But there are many encouraging signs that the tide of public awareness has turned strongly in support of retaining and restoring access.

Rod-

Olympic management's many false starts during the previous decades tell me completing a Wilderness plan has not been a high priority. This is a park that has been successfully sued several times, including by its own cooperating association, for not following wilderness requirements: http://rdpayne.drizzlehosting.com/opa-news.html#gmp

During the twenty years I worked at Olympic, about one-third of the trail work was development, not maintenance. I think it's fair to say park management had, and has, a development agenda, as does the national NPS.

A thirty-year permanent employee told me programs and positions throughout the park were stripped to fund the Staircase Bridge. Such a structure in designated wilderness that costs nearly ten times any previous park trail bridge is definitely development. So is the Spruce RR Trail project. 'Upgrades' are development, not maintenance. Besides competing with true maintenance for funding, both projects will add to the park's long-term maintenance load.

Have you seen the Staircase bridge site at maximum flood stage? The bedrock channel and right-angle turns upstream set up whirlpools of spinning giant vertical drift logs that have destroyed all previous bridges at that location. How many more bridges will be lost before management realizes that crossing is not sustainable?

Tahoma, I recognize that your intent is positive, but as I read your posting, I think it is filled with misunderstandings. May we discuss these?

1) It is true that programs and positions throughout the Park have been repeatedly cut to the bone. But by repeated cuts in the NPS budget, not by misdirecting fee revenue.

2) NPS fee revenue can only be spent as allowed by law, on "facility enhancement" and "habitat restoration" directly benefitting visitors. See Directors Order 22 section 9.2 and Reference Manual 22 B. It can't be spent on general NPS staffing, only on projects that directly benefit visitors.

3) Please list the "one-third of trail work" that was "development"? The Park did build a few new frontcountry nature trails, and a short one to view Aldwell Dam removal. But well over 95% of trail work I can see is simply keeping the 600 miles of backcountry trails, built in the 1920-30s, open. The most expensive (labor intensive) are replacement of trail bridges and repair at sites damaged by floods and landslides. How is reopening trails that have existed for 80-90 years "development"?

4) Yes, I've seen the Staircase site (not at, but near) flood stage, and visited the site right after floods. The replacement suspension bridge is more expensive because it is a 200 ft suspension bridge above the 100 year flood level, relocated 100 yards upriver of the problematic bottleneck location of the previous bridge. No flood that's occurred in our lifetimes will touch it.

See plan drawing at http://lh4.ggpht.com/-YJAsWlU3hfs/UGYiKy6-GrI/AAAAAAAAHBs/0nQMpZYA0dc/s0/StaircaseRapids.jpg

5) Staircase Rapids bridge had ten thousand visitors per year, and its replacement has been demanded by the public. This was the most popular dayhike in the Park. Whether you or I like it or not, dayhikers outnumber backcountry overnight hikers by about three to one.

6) Spruce RR Trail is a development project, I agree, and yes, it will add to NPS maintenance costs (it is basically another 4 miles of single-lane paved road). This is a 4 mile segment of the 126 mile Olympic Discovery Trail, which has overwealming local public support. You should have attended the scoping and EA comment meetings, or at least read the EA comment letters, to appreciate the extent and passion of public support for it. If you or I might prefer dirt singletrack, we must recognize that we are distinctly in the minority. Finally, the County already has grant funding to build it, although the details are still being worked out. Some NPS funding may be required, too, but it'd be retained fee revenue or grants, not from the base Park budget.

7) Finally, my personal opinion: Olympic Park Associates is not a "cooperating association" of NPS. Cooperating does not mean repeatedly threatening lawsuits on a variety of topics, and actually suing. That's why I won't join it, nor will most of the public. It is a small group. It is uncooperative and counterproductive, in my view. Its attitude belongs in the past.

In short, I think the Park is being responsive to its public constituency. And I think your comments are either factually incorrect, or are contrary to what the solid majority of the public have loudly and clearly demanded of the Park.

Rod-

Thanks for the details on the new bridge. I hope you're correct and it avoids the fate of its predecessors. Do you know if it's designed to have one side of the deck lowered to prevent overloading by the tremendously heavy snow that sometimes occurs there?

I should add that this bridge merely restores a convenient loop between the existing trails on each bank one mile above the Ranger Station. It's not as if those thousands of visitors you mentioned had no hiking opportunities without the bridge or were "excluded". Thousands of visitors contributed tens of thousands of dollars to restore weekday winter access to Hurricane Ridge, but park managers decided they couldn't afford that: http://www.freehurricaneridge.blogspot.com/p/background-information.html

It's hard to believe the $1.5 million bridge cost is covered by fee money. That's about one-eighth of the recent annual operating budgets for Olympic and seems a misplaced priority in budgetary hard times. If true, it sounds like overnight backpackers and other users are still subsidizing front country day-hikers, as was common when I worked there. I saw lots of money shuffling to accomplish management's ends. It was said that the unpaid wages from vacant positions, like those you mention, ended up in the superintendent's discretionary account. The NPS is not exactly a paragon of honesty and transparency when it comes to budget information: http://www.schundler.net/Monocracy.pdf

As for trail development, a new high-standard Nature Trail was constructed almost every year in the eighties and nineties: two at Quinault, three at Kalaloch, five at Barnes Point (including a new $100K bridge over Barnes Ck.), two at Soleduc along the upgraded road, plus extensive improvements to Lover's Lane, Madison Falls (handicapped standard) at the Elwha entrance, and the loop behind the Port Angeles VC. I also executed the early 80's improvement of the south coast (formerly 'cross-country') segments to maintained trail status. Several major stream crossings, such as Hayes River, were upgraded from footlogs with stock fords to expensive decked horse bridges. Five under-engineered trail bridges averaging $100,000 each failed under snow load within five years. During almost all of those years, at least one quarter of the park trail mileage never saw a trail maintenace crew.

As for OPA, the fact their suit was successful shows how little ONP management has cared about law and policy.

I don't know the answer to Lee's question about political influence, but it's interesting that the contractor at Staircase is the same company doing the Elwha dam removals.

"Do you know if it's designed to have one side of the deck lowered to prevent overloading by the tremendously heavy snow that sometimes occurs there? " No, it is designed to bear the heaviest wet snow load of record (times 2, I think?)

"It's not as if those thousands of visitors you mentioned had no hiking opportunities without the bridge or were "excluded"." The drop in the years when the Staircase Rapids Loop Trail bridge was out is readily apparent in the Staircase visitation stats https://irma.nps.gov/Stats/SSRSReports/Park%20Specific%20Reports/Traffic%20Counts?Park=OLYM The drop of 10,000/year looks correct to me, but you could put it into a spreadsheet and check for yourself. (Note that partial recovery since 2004 is due to displacement of visitors since access was lost at Dosewallips.)

I agree with your point about Hurricane Ridge winter access. Weekday closure resulted in an even larger loss of visitation (~10,000 traffic count/year = ~23,000 visitors/year).

"It's hard to believe the $1.5 million bridge cost is covered by fee money." It's $1.1 million and was accumulated over several years. Annual fee revenue at OLYM is about $2.4 million/year.

"it sounds like overnight backpackers and other users are still subsidizing front country day-hikers". No, I believe the opposite has long been and continues to be more accurate.

"As for OPA, the fact their suit was successful shows how little ONP management has cared about law and policy." I completely disagree. It showed how little one judge regarded the Wilderness Act section 4 which "shall in no way lower the standards" of historic preservation. And it showed how out of step OPA is with public opinion - the Park's public workshops on shelter policy gathered 1,416 written public comments, 86% favoring retention of all trail shelters and only 1% favoring removing all (OPA position). OPA is similarly way out of step with the public when advocating closure of Dosewallips, Deer Park, Graves Creek, Queets, Sol Duc, Hoh and other Park entrance roads, visitors centers, ranger stations and campgrounds.

I'd enjoy arguing the merits of all the trail projects you list, but this one statement jumps out "Five under-engineered trail bridges averaging $100,000 each failed under snow load within five years." Please list them. The only one I'm aware of that actually failed due to snow load is the Dose High Bridge. The engineered replacement simply added a third stringer identical to the two the Park had used, and has stood for ten years since.

"Several major stream crossings, such as Hayes River, were upgraded from footlogs with stock fords to expensive decked horse bridges." In the "good old days", we could construct stock fords even in fish-bearing streams. Not so today due to ESA etc. So when the fords were torn out by floods, we had to build stock bridges. Stock access is essential in support of trail maintenance. OLYM operates three pack trains of mules. It's either mules or helicopters, and this is Wilderness.

The big picture is that OLYM has ~767 trail bridges on its ~612 miles of trails. I doubt only 5 fail each year! We had record floods in 1999, 2003 and 2007 which damaged roads and trails throughout the Park and Forest, and have only really recovered from that this year. To blame the Park for acts of God seems misplaced to me.

I'm not aware of a single new nature trail built in OLYM in the past ten years. A short trail was built to the Elwha Dam overlook so people could observe its deconstruction.

" it's interesting that the contractor at Staircase is the same company doing the Elwha dam removals." Is that true, and is this innuendo relevant? If you have any reason to allege mismanagement of the bidding process, please stand up and say why and I'll check into it. I don't know who got the contract, but heard the bid came in below estimate (as has been true in recent years for most construction contracts, including the Elwha dams and most road projects, due to the recession). If Barnard got it (and I don't know) I'd not be surprised because they are already mobilized here and should be able to put in a low bid.

If you know of any "superintendent's discretionary account", please inform the Sup't! Frankly, she doesn't have enough discretionary $ to buy lunch.

I've only hiked at Olympic a few times, and haven't been to Staircase in decades, so I'll not comment on the specific case of the bridge. For all I know the new bridge may be justified. But I will comment on your posts, Rod- they show a fundamental misunderstanding of the Wilderness Act. Throughout your posts you use public support and opinion as justification for structures in wilderness- 10,000 people "demanded" the bridge, it had "overwhelming" public support, 86% of those who commented supported shelters, etc. And the minority (like yourself) who don't want such structures- too bad.

The Wilderness Act was passed in order to have at least a tiny percentage of the landscape in which humans did not dominate the natural environment with powerful tools and structures- that example of human reststraint is a societal benefit, something that benefits the "whole people" in whose name the Act was passed, not just those who recreate there. Even with regard to recreation, however, it is clear from the legislative history of the Act that it was designed to protect a minority right- the rights of those who don't want excessive bridges, shelters, etc., who want to experience the nautral world without such conveniences. This was discussed explicitly and extensively during the debates on the various wilderness bills. In this regard it is similar to other bills passed during the same time period, by the same Congress- the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, etc.

Wilderness management should not be decided by a vote. I does not require public comment, like NEPA. The Act is, as one District Judge noted, "as close to a purist manifesto as exists in law", and as many other courts have noted, it is singularly outcome oriented- it mandates the preservation of wilderness character and only allows bridges and other "developments" (and, no, structures and installations are not "grandfathered in" just because they predate designation) if they are the minimum required to preserve wilderness character.

This is not to say that both politics and Politics don't influence such decisions- but that doesn't mean a decision that compromises wilderness values in the name of popular support is legal or will hold up in court.

marmot, that is one excellent summary of the Wilderness Act. Thank you very much.

Marmot, apologies for not seeing and replying earlier to your belated comment. Your understanding of the Wilderness Act seems to contradict the wording of the Act itself, which cites recreation, scenic and historic values as among the values defining Wilderness, and in Section 4 states designation as Wilderness "shall in no manner lower the standards evolved for the use or preservation" provided by the NPS Organic Act "for the use and enjoyment of the people" and by historic preservation laws. Your understanding of the legislative intent of Olympic Wilderness seems at direct odds with that of the sponsor of the 1988 Washington Parks Wilderness Act which designated it. Senator Dan Evans testified "designation of the park as wilderness by this act should not, in and of itself, be utilized as justification for removal of any of these structures from the park. Some of the structures may need to be removed for the purposes of environmental protection of the park. For others, repairs and stabilization may be warranted to insure the preservation of their historic integrity. Others may serve a substantial public purpose and should be retained for their benefits to public use." - 134 Cong. Rec. S16519 (daily ed. October 18, 1988) (statement of Sen. Evans). Your statement that Wilderness management "does not require public comment, like NEPA" is amazing, as Olympic National Park is currently conducting a Wilderness Stewardship Plan http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectId=29224 which is explicitly required by law! Your understanding of the intent of Wilderness seems at odds with that of The Wilderness Society, which endorses the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Preservation Act. http://wilderness.org/sites/default/files/GML%20Factsheet_061913_FINAL.pdf There's a simple explanation for all these discrepancies, Marmot. You've failed to recall that America is a representative democracy. Wilderness exists due to acts passed with bipartisan support and based upon public consensus. Tear that apart with appeal to a "purist manifesto", and you destroy the very foundation upon which current and future Wildernesses are built.