PORT ANGELES — Many portions of Lake Crescent and the Sol Duc Road will reopen today in the northern portion of Olympic National Park, with more park locations and facilities expected to resume operations this summer.
“After being closed for a good, long time, we are starting to reopen some facilities in concert and in conversation with [Clallam County Health Officer] Dr. Allison Unthank, as well as public health officers in the three counties surrounding the park, Jefferson, Mason and Grays Harbor,” said ONP Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum during a Zoom meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Port Angeles on Thursday.
Creachbaum said ONP would follow social distancing guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks in public places.
“We will require face masks in most places, but we don’t have a mechanism for enforcement yet,” Creachbaum said.
The park closed to the public April 10.
The northern part of the park is being reopened first.
“Port Angeles and Sequim are communities of a size that we feel can absorb a little bit more of the outside communities coming in as opposed to Forks, which only has the one grocery store, the Thriftway,” Creachbaum said. “We will start with Lake Crescent and Sol Duc Road, and if that goes OK, we will start on the east side and move around to the west side last.”
Opening today are the Barnes Point area, including East Beach, Bovee’s Meadow and the bathrooms and comfort station at the Storm King Boat Launch. Restrooms at La Poel and Sol Duc and at the Sol Duc Road pullout, where the interpretive sign is, and at the Salmon Cascades will be open.
The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort will remain closed.
Creachbaum wasn’t sure if the Heart O’ the Forest Trail would be ready by today but expects that trail, which provides access to the Lake Angeles Trailhead, to reopen soon.
Park lodging and concessions will remain closed for the time being.
“Our dates for opening concessions are in late May, and I wouldn’t be surprised if those dates are pushed back a little bit,” Creachbaum said.
She expects grab-and-go food service to resume first, with limited food service following later this summer.
Reopening access to Hurricane Ridge also is a ways off, Creachbaum said.
“A lot of snow up there right now, and we also are trying to figure out how we can have folks access the restrooms,” Creachbaum said. “It’s tricky, with that building [Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center] because we kind of funnel people downstairs, and it can get busy by the doors. I think it will be several weeks, if not longer, for the Ridge.”
The west side of the park, including the Pacific beaches, will be among the last areas to reopen, park officials have said.
Sourcing the needed amount of cleaning supplies, protective equipment and housing for seasonal employees in the face of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that limit the number of people who may be housed together is complicating matters, Creachbaum said.
“We may be able to open a campground or two this summer, and in late or mid-June maybe open up the backcountry,” she said.
“This is all incumbent on enough cleaning supplies and enough personnel. We have to have enough people to do search-and-rescue in the backcountry.”
Creachbaum said seasonal workers are “the backbone of ONP’s workforce.” The park doubles its number of employees during the summer months.
“[New CDC] guidelines of only having one person per room for houses or dormitories is severely limiting our ability to hire seasonal employees,” Creachbaum said.
“Seasonal employees are fairly technical jobs, so it would be difficult to use volunteers in a safe way, particularly during a pandemic with some of the things left behind by our visitors.”
Creachbaum cautioned that the park’s reopenings would follow federal and state directives and are contingent on equipment and staffing capabilities as well as the guidance of neighboring communities.
“We are not only syncing up with the governor’s proclamation, but also finding appropriate supplies and staff. We are hoping to get as much of the park open as possible, but only if our neighbors feel the same way.”
Creachbaum said shuttering park operations has been more taxing than actually operating the park.
“If I said the last couple of months at ONP have been easy, I would be lying,” Creachbaum said.
“It’s been quite an ordeal, a bit of a logistical nightmare.
“I find it funny, and it is true, that it is more work to run a closed park versus an open park.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected].