Keith Olson — Park Service’s track record argues against expansion


It’s ‘National Parks Week’ in the United States. Let’s celebrate the beauty in our backyards, but at the same time, let us also be wary of the National Park Service and Olympic National Park.

The National Park Service, on its website, states, “We value dynamic conversations that enhance public engagement. We are proud to join forces with state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, private citizens, and other partners, to build trails, return historic buildings to productive use, revitalize neighborhoods, expand affordable housing, protect watersheds, recognize and promote local history, and introduce the next generation to stewardship opportunities and responsibilities.”

I’ll discuss, one at a time, the benefits that the National Park Service so graciously gives to Grays Harbor.

1. “We value dynamic conversations that enhance public engagement.” Their “dynamic engagement” in the Wild Olympics proposal went on for three years before involving the citizens of Grays Harbor County in their dialogue. They value dynamic conversation as long as it does not conflict with their long-range goals or agenda.

2. “We are proud to join forces with local governments.” Our current county commissioners, two of our state representatives and state senator all oppose the Wild Olympics, which is the Park’s new plan to expand its boundaries.

3. “Build trails.” Many Grays Harbor residents know of the miles and miles of trails that the Olympic National Park has abandoned over the last 70-plus years. A comparison of the Quinault Valley trail systems maintained by the U.S. Forest Service and those maintained by Olympic National Park show an appalling contrast. Daytime visitors to the Quinault Valley find more than 15 miles of trails that the Forest Service maintains (granted, it embarrassingly took the Forest Service over four years to finally get approval to clear the Colonel Bob trail). These same visitors to the valley find that Olympic National Park maintains about one mile.

4. “Protecting watersheds.” Oh boy, I’ll get to that in a bit!

5. “Return historic buildings to productive use.” I’m not sure exactly what they mean here, but it cannot be the trail shelters. Shelters in Olympic National Park have simply disappeared, never to be replaced.

6. “Revitalize neighborhoods.” This hasn’t happened on Grays Harbor. Our county, if not still leading the state in unemployment, is in second place. The private property owners in the Quinault Valley have lost 95 percent of their property within the boundaries of Olympic National Park; from more than 4,000 acres to its current level, less than 200 acres. Go to www.nps.gov and you will find out just how important Olympic National Park values Grays Harbor County’s economic vitality. Of the 23 hotels/motels listed on their website only one in Olympic National Park’s Grays Harbor area, the Lake Quinault Lodge, is listed. Revitalization you say?

7. “Expanding affordable housing.” I must confess that I have no idea what the agency is talking about in regards to expanding affordable housing.

8. “Introduce the next generation to stewardship opportunities and responsibilities.” I’ll discuss this with their “protecting watersheds.” and let’s get to that right now.

In the late 1990s Olympic National Park, with caterpillars and excavators, blocked the entire channel of Finley Creek, a major tributary of the Upper Quinault River. I say blocked, and I mean blocked! They built a dike from one bank to the other, completely blocking the channel. Hard to believe, I know – but I do have documented, photographic proof.

This channel change was done without a permit or without even notification to the necessary government agencies, i.e. Grays Harbor County, the state Department of Ecology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration , U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, the state Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the Quinault Indian Nation. Private landowners? We were not notified either.

This channel change forced Finley Creek to enter the Quinault River a mile further upstream. The ensuing catastrophe was, and still is, devastating to the ecosystems and landowners in the Upper Quinault Valley!

As of April 2012 over 100 acres of unique habitat have been lost to erosion by the Quinault River. This property was an irreplaceable ecosystem, made up of wetland habitat criss-crossed with creeks, pools and alder bottoms. The erosion also completely destroyed over a half-mile of Merriman Creek, one of the two prime sockeye spawning streams (as identified by the Quinault Tribe) on the Upper Quinault River. This destruction has been a direct result of the negligence of Olympic National Park.

The park’s actions jeopardized the lives of the Corey and Kellie Daniels’ family one late night in December of 2007. The family’s house was surrounded by the raging waters of the Quinault River as it continued to erode the banks, following the Finley Creek diversion. They were forced to flee in the late hours of the night, wading through nearly five feet of water in pitch black darkness. Their entire family could have been swept away at any time during their flight.

Since that night valley citizens have lived in constant fear of more property and home losses through the long winter and early spring months. The Daniels’ home was nearly lost to the river and had to be moved a half-mile down the valley at a cost of more than $60,000 for the move alone. Their prized piece of personal property is lost to the river, with only a portion remaining and that incurs erosion from raging floodwaters each winter.

This property and home loss is a direct result of Olympic National Park’s blockage of the entire channel of Finley Creek.

Hundreds of millions and perhaps billions of cubic yards of gravel, silt and mud have been dumped into the river. This resultant increase in river-caused migrational erosion has caused pollution of prime spawning grounds for salmon and steelhead and habitat for the endangered bull trout.

Numerous meetings have been held with ONP personnel, but to date the Park refuses to right this unnecessary wrong.

The devastation of critical salmon, steelhead and bull trout habitat continues, as does the destruction of our private property. With this continued destruction comes the threat of the loss of our county road, homes and human lives.

This brings me right back to what Olympic National Park is teaching our next generation about “stewardship responsibility.” Scary, isn’t it?

And now, our Park thinks it deserves additional lands to manage through the Wild Olympics plan. Why should we think that they would do any better with the management of additional lands when they have so terribly abused the pristine lands that they already have? They cannot and they will not!

A November 2011 report by the National Parks Conservation Association said, “the national park system has ‘an operations shortfall of $500 million to $600 million dollars; a deferred maintenance backlog of $10.8 billion dollars; a critical systems deferred maintenance backlog of $3.7 billion dollars.’ ” Does this sound like an agency that should be given even more lands to mismanage?

I’ll see you at the Bishop Center on May 10 for a public forum on the Wild Olympics proposal, and we can give outgoing Congressman Norm Dicks and Sen. Murray a resounding “NO” to the Wild Olympics boondoggle!

Keith Olson is a resident of Quinault.