Olympic National Park Officials Propose Temporary Salvation For Enchanted Valley Chalet

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Olympic National Park officials have come up with a temporary solution to save the Enchanted Valley Chalet from toppling into the East Fork of the Quinault River/NPS

Olympic National Park officials are proposing to move the Enchanted Valley Chalet up to 100 feet from the East Fork of the Quinault River to both protect the historic structure from collapsing and to prevent impacts to the riverbed and its hydrology and fishery.

The move, outlined in an expedited environmental assessment, would only be temporary. A long-term plan to preserve the two-and-a-half story structure that dates to 1930-31 when it was built by the Olympic Recreation Company would still need to be done.

“We know that temporarily relocating the chalet will not provide long-term protection of either the building or the area’s natural or wilderness resources,” said Olympic Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum in a release. “The goal of this proposed action is to protect the East Fork Quinault River from imminent environmental harm, while providing additional time for more thorough planning and public review about the area’s future.

“Taking a two-step approach to the evolving situation in Enchanted Valley allows us to address immediate resource protection needs while allowing more time to find a feasible solution that protects park resources into the future,” she added.

The Enchanted Valley Chalet is located 13 miles from the nearest road, deep within the Olympic Wilderness. The chalet was constructed by Quinault Valley residents prior to establishment of Olympic National Park. The chalet served for several decades as a backcountry lodge and, more recently, as a wilderness ranger station and emergency shelter. The chalet was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

Since January the course of the East Fork of the Quinault River has undercut the 42-foot by 28-foot structure by 6-7 feet, according to the EA. Migration of the East Fork Quinault’s channel is common in the loose, unconsolidated soils of Enchanted Valley. Storms, fallen trees, rockslides and simply the constant process of erosion can all cause the river to shift and carve a new channel.

While the chalet is located within the Olympic Wilderness, where the use of power tools typically is prohibited, park officials say an exemption under the Wilderness Act would allow them to use a 10-horspower motor to help crews lift the 90-ton log building off its foundation, and to rely on a helicopter to transport equipment and materials to the site. Steel rails and beams would be used by workers to "leap-frog" the building away from the river to a site 50-100 feet away, the EA released Wednesday said.

According to the document, the park superintendent can authorize the use of motorized equipment or mechnical transport if it's determined "to be the minimum requirement needed by management to achieve the purposes of the area, including the preservation of wilderness character and values, in accordance with the Wilderness Act;"

Under the National Park Service's Director's Order 41: Wilderness Preservation and Management, "When determining the minimum requirement for a proposed action, the manager will strive to minimize the extent of adverse impact associated with accomplishing the necessary wilderness objective. The determination as to whether or not an action has an adverse impact on wilderness must consider both the physical resources within wilderness, and wilderness characteristics and values. These characteristics and values include: the wilderness’s primeval character and influence; the preservation of natural conditions (including the lack of man-made noises); cultural resource values, the assurance of outstanding opportunities for solitude; the assurance that the public will be provided with a primitive and unconfined type of recreational experience; and the assurance that wilderness will be preserved and used in an unimpaired condition."

Park officials acknowledged in the EA that the proposed solution would have some impacts on the Wilderness Area.

There would be impacts on wilderness character as a result of this action. The activities involved with the temporary relocation of the structure to within approximately 50-100 feet of its current location would result in short-term, minor, adverse impacts on visitor use and experience due to the temporary closure of the area to conduct project activities, and an increased human-presence (increased encounter rates and noise) from implementing the proposed action, affecting the opportunity for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation quality of wilderness character. The use of a gas-driven motor to drive the power-pack pump, and the use of helicopters to transport equipment as well as to remove the remaining foundation from the project site would result in a short-term, moderate, adverse effect on the opportunities for solitude and undeveloped qualities of wilderness character. The removal of the non-historic foundation, would likely result in a long-term, beneficial effect on the natural and untrammeled qualities of wilderness character as the action would keep the structure from falling into the river and potentially disrupting natural flow regimes, disturbing fish habitat, and negatively affecting water quality.

Among the options considered but rejected were: dismantle and burn the building, disassemble and move the chalet to a front-country site in the park, and altering the riverbed to protect the chalet in its existing location.

If the proposed solution is implemented, additional studies under the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act would be conducted to determine a long-term solution to preserve the structure.