Olympic National Park Releases Preliminary Alternatives for Its Wilderness Stewardship Plan



Olympic National Park planners are making excellent progress on ONP’s wilderness stewardship plan. They have offered a range of preliminary alternatives and they are reviewing more than 600 public comments. The plan will shape management of the Olympic Wilderness for the next 20 to 30 years.


The preliminary alternatives introduce some far-reaching measures for protecting this popular wilderness—and its outstanding ecosystems—for the coming decades. Your continuing involvement in the planning process will help ensure that the final plan gives strong protection to the Olympic Wilderness and ensures a quality wilderness experience for future visitors to the park.


OPA Recommends a Combination of Preliminary Alternatives B and C.


Proposed wilderness trail zones reflect a sound foundation for managing appropriate levels of trail development and visitor use. And excellent options for protecting the Olympic Wilderness can be found in Alternatives B and C.


In addition, a number of farsighted recommendations are common to all action alternatives. OPA supports all of these recommended actions, with slight modifications for a few. Among the actions are:


  • Carrying capacities and quotas will be set for high-use areas.
  • No new trails will be constructed.
  • Visitor use will be managed to reduce impacts on native species.
  • Exotic plants and animals will be eliminated or controlled.
  • A restoration plan/EIS for the gray wolf will be developed.
  • Stock use will be regulated and confined to designated trails.
  • No new radio or transmission towers will be installed.
  • Wilderness education will accompany all permits.


OPA Recommendations


OPA supports an approach that would best protect natural resources and ecological process as displayed in Alternative C with some refinements. Our recommendations incorporate significant elements from Alternative B as well as a few from D.


Alternative B emphasizes reduction of the human footprint and contains the soundest recommendations regarding management of historic structures in wilderness, quotas and use limits, limits on administrative use of aircraft, and administrative tool use.


Alternative C emphasizes protection of natural resources and ecological processes. It contains the best recommendations for wilderness trail and campsite zoning (refined with some elements from other alternatives), trail and bridge management, stock use, and campfire restrictions.


Alternative D emphasizes a greater range of wilderness experiences for visitors. OPA finds some elements of this alternative worthy of support. Ranger-led interpretive hikes could be increased, tribal access to ethnographic resources would be permitted within the limits of the Wilderness Act, and some trail zone elements could be adopted.


For a more detailed analysis of the plan and OPA’s recommendations, read on.


A Detailed Look at Alternatives and Issues


Alternative C presents an excellent strategy for preserving the stunning diversity of natural species and environments that make Olympic National Park what it is. Identifying heavily used nature trails (zone 1) and maintaining popular access trials up river valleys and major passes (zones 2 and 3) will allow for maximum enjoyment of the wilderness while protecting important resources. The careful delineation of primitive trails (zone 4) and way trails (zone 5), and regulating camping in fragile, alpine, and less heavily used environments provide sensible limitations on the use of these areas.


OPA particularly supports zone 4 prescriptions, with fewer maintained trails, and zone 5, with no maintained trails. As pressures on back country areas increase, places such as Skyline trail from 3 Lakes to Low Divide and Martin’s Park trail should be zone 4, primitive, and the Bailey Range, Dodger Point high route, Lillian Ridge, upper Royal Basin, Lake Constance, and Lake of the Angels should certainly be placed in zone 5. Boot-worn way trails should suffice.


We also support specific trail zone elements from other alternatives that would increase resource protection yet allow more traditional use on some trails.


From Alternative B, we recommend:
Shi Shi Beach should be zoned 3, secondary, rather than 2, all-purpose. This area has experienced serious overuse. The current access trail descends a steep bluff (similar to overland trails on the south coast, which are zoned 3); the old overgrown military road should not be re-opened for trail access. The North Fork Sol Duc should be zoned 4 and 5, primitive and way trail; this reflects current use level and difficulty access (river ford). The South Fork Hoh trail should be zone 4, primitive, to preserve one Westside rain forest valley available for a more intimate trail experience free of stock use and developed sites. Similarly, the Rugged Ridge trail should be classed as zone 4, primitive, to reflect current use and comply with nearby Hoh-Bogachiel trail zoning. Aurora Ridge should be zoned 4 and 5 for similar reasons.


From Alternative D, we recommend:
In the following trail zones 2 and 3, we recommend traditional stock use be allowed on the Queets River trail, the Dosewallips/Hayden Pass/Hays River trails, and the Boulder Creek trail (to horse camp/former parking area at Olympic Hot Springs). These would be added to the stock trails already included in Alternative C: the Dosewallips/Anderson Pass/Quinault trails; Duckabush/First Divide/Skokomish trails; Elwha/Low Divide/North Fork Quinault trail; Long Ridge and (lower) Lillian trails; the Hoh River trail to Elk Lake; and the Bogachiel/Little Divide/Mink Lake trails. All are well constructed and maintained and could be accommodated with minimal impacts to fragile areas.


Other Elements of the Plan


OPA endorses other elements of the draft alternatives that are worthy of note. And there are a few items we addressed in our scoping letter that still need attention.


Historic structures. We strongly endorse the decision not to consider historic structures to be contributing elements of wilderness character. This clarifies the issue and affirms the clear intent of the Wilderness Act. The prescriptions for historic management in Alternative B are most in keeping with wilderness principles: no reconstruction of historic buildings that have naturally deteriorated; allowing natural processes to take precedence; and developing a determination of which historic structures and landscapes would be maintained in wilderness. We request that this determination be included in the draft plan under NEPA with full public participation and review.


OPA sees an important distinction between Native-maintained coastal prairies, with their associated species diversity, and old homestead clearings, with their exotic grasses. We support careful management of the first, and recommend natural succession for the latter.


Scientific research. The flexibility provided to researchers within the permitting process in Alternative C offers the best approach to managing this important aspect of wilderness.


Park operations. OPA favors the moderate directions in Alternative C where park operations would be more reliant on non-mechanized and non-motorized equipment and transport, but with some flexibility in application.


Fire. Alternative B best recognizes the ecological role of fire in the landscape within the constrains of adjacent lands and public safely. We oppose hazard fuel reduction activities to protect nonessential buildings in wilderness.


Campsites and commercial services. We agree with the approach in Alternative C that would retain the number of campsites and the amount of commercial services at about the level same as present.


Wilderness District. To ensure that these and other measures in the plan receive full consideration in the day-to-day management of the park, OPA once again requests that the plan recommend a wilderness district be created for the Olympic Wilderness, and a wilderness district ranger appointed to oversee all park operations within wilderness.


OPA thanks park planners for the thorough and diligent job they have done thus far in identifying key issues and management prescriptions. We encourage them to continue in this positive direction to create a stewardship plan worthy of the magnificent Olympic Wilderness.


For More Information


To view the full text of OPA’s comment letter, click here. To read background information in the OPA newsletter, click here. To read OPA’s wilderness plan scoping letter, click here. To keep abreast of the ongoing planning process, click here.






Options for Wilderness Stewardship Plan Announced – 2014


Scoping Alert – 2013