Shifting Quinault River Threatening Historic Structure At Olympic National Park

The Enchanted Valley Chalet at Olympic National Park is threatened by the encroaching main channel of the East Fork Quinault River. NPS file photo by Bryan Bell.

Olympic National Park officials are trying to figure out the best way to save the Enchanted Valley Chalet, a historic structure being threatened by the shifting main channel of the East Fork Quinault River.

Recent ground and aerial photographs of the Enchanted Valley in the park show that the river channel has shifted and is flowing within several feet of the historic Enchanted Valley Chalet.

Migration of the East Fork Quinault’s channel is common, particularly in the wide, flat expanse of Enchanted Valley, say park officials. Storms, fallen trees, rockslides and simply the constant process of deposition and erosion can all cause the river to shift and carve a new channel, they note.

“We are very concerned about the future of the chalet, as well as possible impacts to the river,” said Olympic Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. “The chalet has a great deal of local and regional significance and is well-known to anyone who’s traveled to Enchanted Valley in the past 75 years.”

Park staff is working now to fully assess the situation and determine the best course of action.

“Our options are limited, however, given Enchanted Valley’s remote location within the Olympic Wilderness and the river’s dynamic force," said the superintendent.

A routine monitoring program of biweekly aerial photography flights will provide park cultural and natural resource experts with current information about the upper East Fork Quinault and the chalet. These experts are also working closely with the Pacific West Regional Office of the National Park Service, the Washington State Historic Preservation Officer, and other partners and concerned citizens.

Located 13 miles up trail from the Graves Creek trailhead in the Quinault Valley, the chalet was built by Quinault Valley residents in the early 1930s, prior to establishment of Olympic National Park. It served as a lodge for hikers and horse riders in Enchanted Valley.

Enchanted Valley is within the Olympic Wilderness, designated in 1988 and is a popular wilderness destination. The chalet is used as a backcountry ranger station and emergency shelter for hikers. The chalet was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.


Fascinating challenge and decision-making situation for cultural resources management.

Originally from Grays Harbor with family associated with the Olympians Outdoor Club who, over the decades, have done restoration work and stayed at the Chalet although I have not, it would be a sad passing if it were to be just a part of history. When my dad, brother and sister were headed for Enchanted Valley I tried hiding in the trunk so I could go. I was very small, five I believe. I was not successful, lol! Hope a simple solution can be found.

Great memories from the Quinault.

If preventing 'impacts to the river' were really the top priority, Olympic managers would begin removing this structure, along with associated outhouses and fuel storage, as soon as possible. Instead, I predict they will spend heaps of money in a futile effort. Nature bats last.

Like to reiterate,:"simple solution," without the often required spending tons of money. A simple pragmatic solution. Often in changing paths of water flows in such a drainage it doesn't take the TVA to make it work unless the goal is to spend a pile of money. Hope it can happen. Cultural and historic features are worth preserving and not just to compliment museum science.

An interesting issue, I can see both sides. I do not have a dog in the fight, but I think the structure should be removed, if the alternatives are unacceptable mitigations to the natural flow of the river. Best wishes to the Park management team on this issue.

Looks like there is plenty of room in the valley to move it, although it will be tricky without power tools/motors....

Most of the floor of Enchanted Valley is in the runout zones for numerous large avalanche paths, some of which are visible in the photo accompanying Kurt's story. Large rockslides are also common. Both deposit debris that changes this braided glacial river's course. Modest mitigation efforts to divert the river with artificial logjams started over twenty years ago, but have been unsuccessful.

The use of chain saws and power winches is standard practice in the Olympic Wilderness, but I doubt this large log structure could be moved in one piece without serious damage. It could probably be disassembled log by log and rebuilt at another location. I'd guess this would take a couple years, at least half a million dollars, and hundreds of helicopter flights.

Here's a photo showing the seriousness of the problem:

The Chalet was most recently restored by NPS in 2009, and is in excellent condition. It is entirely built of well-cured cedar, which is half the weight of fir. The logs cutout in 1931 for the fireplace (never built) were replaced with solid logs in 1983. Sills have been replaced and are solid. So it is conceivable to use house jacks to raise it, slip roller logs in, and use grip hoists to move it intact. Not trivial, a major effort which may require helicopter long-line delivery of cable and tools and temporary cable crossbracing within it, but conceivable.

The river's course was stable for decades before and after the Chalet's site selection in 1928. Tahoma suggests avalanches and rockslides may have altered it. Perhaps the recession of Lindsley (West Anderson), White and Anderson Glaciers over the past century and a half since the end of the Little Ice Age, and the consequent erosion of stream channels through their terminal moraines, is delivering more gravel downstream? The river has a high gradient above the relatively level Chalet meadows (which may itself stand on a transient terminal moraine). Gravels are deposited there for a time, creating braiding, before they are moved on downriver.

Most of the level valley floor is meadows or alder, suggesting the river has occupied it within the past couple centuries. This is true at, and east of, the Chalet site. However, gradually rising ground south of the site is covered with cedar which have stood for centuries...
...and where the chalet might, as well.

The Chalet has been one of the popular destinations for hikers since before the Park was created. Last year, 2,915 camper-nights were spent within sight of it, and thousands more paused to admire it on their way through. Its listing on the National Register of Historic Places is significant, but even more so are cherished memories etched in the minds of tens of thousands who have visited it...
...and hope to be able to return and share that experience with family and friends in the future.

I'm enjoying the informed commentary on this.

I am, too. The Enchanted Valley is one of my favorite backpacking destinations in the NP system.

Rod makes a excellent point about the recession of the headwaters glaciers. That probably deposits orders of magnitude more sediment on the valley floor than slides. I still believe snow avalanches are the major reason there are relatively few old trees.

Moving the Chalet intact might be possible, but a look at my linked photo seems to show a lack of any trees large enough to winch from for at least several hundred feet away from the river bank. Those nearby alders would probably be pulled out like dandelions and even old-growth anchors can fail under large loads. I suppose a trench could be excavated with explosives to hold a large buried log with cable yokes as a 'deadman' anchor. A faster possiblity might be to disassemble the roof and upper logs to reduce weight until the remaining log frame could be hoisted by a very large (and very expensive) helicopter.

Although this winter's low snowpack may be helpful, it sure looks like the river could begin foreclosure proceedings at Spring high water in a few months.

I agree Rickb, both the posts of Rodf and Tahoma are very interesting. I know it is a tough issue, it would be a shame to lose the structure, Rodf makes a great case. Having, to a limited extent, been involved in historic cabin maintenance and/or restoration in wilderness areas, there are good arguments on both sides. Tahoma makes a good point, a ski crane helicopter might be a consideration but it is a large building, I simply do not have the knowledge to discuss the technical aspects of it. In the past, I was involved in the taking down of an historic snow survey cabin, log by log, moving it to a an avalanche free area, then rebuilding it. Took time and money, but it was worth the effort. This structure however, is much bigger than what we had to deal with. I wish the park staff nothing but success in their efforts to resolve the issue.

NPS analyzed a range of interventions, including moving the Chalet intact, a decade ago when the river first approached the Chalet. Fortunately, the river returned to its previous channel in 2007, and incised itself into it in 2008, and these plans were put "on hold". Most action alternative would require tools etc. delivered via helicopter long-line.

Since then, the Green Mountain Lookout court decision casts uncertainty over the use of helicopters over Wilderness. It ignores the explicit deference to historic preservation laws granted in the Wilderness Act Section 4(a)(3) itself, apparently nullifying the National Historic Preservation Act within Wilderness? We thought we our charge was to harmoniously reconcile both mandates. But if some laws are nullified, the the NPS Wilderness Steering Committee white paper on Cultural Resources and Wilderness and application of NPS DO-28 are also uncertain. In short, one judge selected the "nuclear option" and cast the legal basis of NPS policy into disarray.

To serious students seeking an in-depth analysis and case studies of these issues, I highly recommend Allison Swing's thesis Cultural Wilderness: How the Historical Evolution of American Wilderness Values Influence Cultural Resource Management within Wilderness Areas in National Parks (U Penn, 2011).

To all interested in the deeper philosophical questions, I beseech revisiting William Cronon's The Trouble with Wilderness.

I'm curious and will show my ignorance when I ask if the building is currently actually used for anything. All the photos I've found show it with all the windows boarded up. (Not that boarded windows mean it shouldn't be saved, but just wondering . . . . )

Lee, when I was there in June 2013, it was being used as a ranger station.

Thanks, Justin. (And the last paragraph of Kurt's article. Gotta start reading all the paragraphs . . . . )

Another picture of the problem can be seen here;

Lee Dalton asks is the building is currently actually used.

Yes, it is in active use as a seasonal backcountry ranger station, the base of many search and rescue operations, providing first aid, emergency communications and shelter, natural resource protection and surveys, and visitor services over the past sixty years. The building is occasionally open to the public, on a limited basis as staffing permits. The Chalet was open for public use as a shelter in the 1940s-70s, and may be again in the future (OLYM's Wilderness Stewardship Plan is now ongoing).

The windows are not "boarded up." When unmanned, the shutters are closed to protect the windows from vandalism. The valley has a large population of black bears; when in hyperphagia, they can (fortunately, rarely) break into buildings, tear up tents, etc. (OLYM's wilderness food storage program has proven a very successful preventative. The closed shutters are part of it, as Chalet holds MREs for emergency use.) The valley also hosted 2,915 camper-nights in 2013, and thousands more pass through.