As the East Fork of the Quinault River continues to slice into land under the historic Enchanted Valley Chalet in Olympic National Park, government and civic partners are working to expedite a mitigating solution, an officer of the state Department of Archaeology &Historic Preservation said Monday.
“Pretty dire,” was how Nicholas Vann, state historical architect, described the situation. The chalet has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2007, so his agency is one of the “concurring partners” being consulted by Olympic National Park about the chalet’s condition.
The chalet was designated as part of the Olympic Wilderness in 1988 and its fate is in the National Park Service’s hands. The park, noting further erosion in the wake of winter storms, says it is doing all it can within what is technically and economically feasible.
The chalet was built by Quinault Valley residents in the early 1930s and was later purchased by the National Park Service. Winter storms and high water have caused the river’s main channel to shift by at least 15 feet in the past three months, said a statement by park officials. As of late last week, the river undercut the chalet by approximately four feet, it said.
“Eye opening,” was how Vann described the latest photographs of the river undercutting the foundation of the chalet, which is 13 miles up the trail from the Graves Creek trailhead in the Quinault Valley.
Parties, which normally have up to 30 days to respond to events, are expediting communication to facilitate faster action, Vann said. “We have kicked the consultation into overdrive.”
As a concurring partner, the department makes comments and recommendations throughout the consultation process by the Park Service on how to treat historic properties, said Vann. The park also consults historic preservation groups, Native American tribes and special interest groups such as wilderness advocates and chalet supporters, he said.
The partners are working to achieve a “memorandum of agreement, a treatment plan about what to do, if the inevitable should happen, to mitigate the loss of the structure,” Vann said.
But, he added, “I wouldn’t say we have accepted that it is going to wash away,” he said.
“Buildings are fairly resilient,” said Vann. “We still have some time.”
Erosion worsened over the winter
A crew from the park service documented the erosion and removed the building’s windows recently “both to prevent glass from impacting the river and downstream natural resources and to preserve elements of the historic building,” said the park statement. They also removed equipment, supplies and hazardous materials in the event the river or runoff sweeps it away.
Many in the Olympians Hiking Club, a civic group that has worked to restore the chalet over the years, “were not to thrilled to hear” the windows were removed because they fear it means the park service will allow the river to take the building, said President Barbara Johnson.
Several members plan to attend a public comment meeting Wednesday evening from 5 to 6 at Lake Quinault School in Amanda Park to advocate for Alternative D of the park’s first “Wilderness Stewardship Plan,” Johnson said. Alternative D says historic structures would be maintained and protected as practical and reconstructed if necessary.
In early January, photographs and reports by visitors showed the river had migrated to within 18 inches of the building. Migration of the East Fork Quinault’s channel is common in the loose soils of the valley, the Park Service said. Fallen trees and rock slides can also cause the river to shift and carve a new channel, it added.
Actions are limited due to the lack of easy access to the site and lack of funding options for mitigation.
“Relocating by truck is difficult, if not impossible,” Vann said. The area is accessible to hikers and helicopters, which makes it very difficult logistically to move the chalet, he pointed out.
Vann estimated it would cost “in excess of $50,000, which is just a shot in the dark” to move the chalet as has been advocated by citizens on Facebook and letters to the editor recently.
State grants to save heritage buildings are expressly forbidden from being used for federal projects without express legislative permission, Vann said.
“What we are hoping for is to have the chalet moved with equipment being brought in and brought out on (removable) rails with minimal negative impact … sooner rather than later,” Johnson said. By rails, she means temporary skids, she added.
Emails she saw between groups interested in saving the chalet discussed the use of a helicopter and horses to help the Park Service with a move. She acknowledged moving the chalet 50 to 100 feet might lead to another move eventually if the river keeps carving new channels.
The chalet was remodeled by citizens and the hiking club in 1983. In 2009, the club helped The Friends of the Enchanted Chalet raise $7,196.15 for upkeep, she said.
Johnson said the club had yet to develop any new fundraising plans. She realizes the park’s budget is stretched, but supports any effort to save the chalet.In the park’s statement, Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum did not mention funding sources or a move and said they were working with partners to try and find a solution. She noted options were limited “given the size and force of the river and the valley’s remote location within the Olympic Wilderness.”
The chalet once served as a lodge for hikers and horse riders in the valley. More recently it served as a backcountry ranger station and emergency shelter for hikers.
The park did not provide specifics about funding and moving options when asked Monday. Ultimately, it is up to the Park Service to decide.
“We understand that the chalet occupies an important place in the history of this area, and we know that people hold deep regard and affection for the building,” Creachbaum said in the statement. “We invite anyone who’d like to share their photos or memories … to post them on our Olympic National Facebook page.”
Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DW_Erin