Olympic National Park holding wilderness planning meetings

Tuesday, Feb. 19 at Sekiu Wed. Feb. 20 at Forks

The Olympic National Park is inviting the public to participate in developing a Wilderness Stewardship Plan with a park goal of helping to “protect and manage designated wilderness lands within the park.” 

Public meetings are scheduled, where Olympic National Park (ONP) officials will present the plan as a step in an Environmental Impact Statement.The meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 19 from 5-7 p.m. at the Sekiu Community Center, and on Wednesday, Feb. 20 5-7 p.m. at the state Department of Natural Resources Conference Room on Tillicum Lane in Forks.

Some 95 percent of the Olympic National Park is designated as wilderness. An ONP count shows upwards of 40,000 campers staying overnight in the park every year. 

On the West End, the environment of the park where camping is permitted ranges from rainforest valleys, coastal rainforest and wilderness beaches. 

“The Olympic Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1988 and has become one of the most popular wilderness destinations in the country,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum in a prepared statement. “We are excited to be moving ahead with a comprehensive plan for how we protect and manage this area and are looking forward to hearing thoughts and ideas from our public.” 

The Olympic National Park plan, according to the park’s press release, will be “developed in accordance with the Wilderness Act of 1964 and analyzed through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process.”

As part of the EIS process the park is now seeking comments on their plan, with the comment period open for about another 50 days.

“One of the first steps in any planning process is to learn what the public’s thoughts, questions and concerns are,” said Creachbaum. “We welcome online and written comments and have also scheduled eight public workshops for people to share their thoughts and learn more about the plan.” 

Anyone interested can submit their opinion online, and find about more about the plan, at parkplanning.nps.gov/olymwild. 

In mid-August City Councilman Mike Breidenbach reported at a council meeting that he had observed an ONP survey being taken at the trailhead of a a park beach trail near La Push. He said photographs of an ONP beach south of Forks were presented to hikers showing the beach with a number of people on it, a few people on it and no people on it. The person making the survey asked which photo the hiker preferred in relation to their experience at the undeveloped beach.

The Forks Forum asked the ONP about the survey, and if it was possible that access could be limited to the beach in the future through a wilderness designation.

Rainey_McKenna, ONP spokesperson, replied in August in an email to the Forum.

McKenna wrote: “The Olympic National Park Wilderness Visitor Use Survey is being conducted in thirty-one locations within the park to collect baseline data about wilderness use and visitor experience. This information will be used to prepare a Wilderness Stewardship Plan, which will help guide long term planning for wilderness areas in the park.

“Our goal is to preserve the wilderness character of the park, while continuing to provide quality visitor experiences. The park is not developing a plan to limit access to any of the beaches within the park or require day use reservations of said beaches.

“The park is collaborating with the University of Vermont to conduct the survey.”

Criticisms of the new wilderness plan sent to the Forks Forum by Olympic Peninsula residents fear a cutback in the amount of park land available to campers, hikers and day-use park visitors.