Brink of disaster: Nature clawing away at historical Olympic National Park chalet
This National Park Service photo shows the erosion beneath the Enchanted Valley Chalet, which predates creation of Olympic National Park.
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Park officials said there is little they can do to protect the 84-year-old structure against the forces of nature because of its remote location within a designated wilderness.
“Within what is technically and economically feasible, we continue to do our very best to protect the area's natural and cultural resources and its wilderness character,” Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said in a statement.
“Our options are limited, however, given the size and force of the river and the valley's remote location within the Olympic wilderness.”
Located 13 miles beyond the Graves Creek trailhead on the southwest side of the park, the historic chalet sits in a sediment-filled floodplain where the Quinault's main channel swings from one side of the valley to the other.
High flows this winter shifted the channel by at least 15 feet, undercutting a structure that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
A park crew recently assessed the chalet and removed equipment, supplies and hazardous materials.
Windows and window casings were also removed to prevent glass from impacting the river downstream, and to preserve elements of the historical building.
“It's a very difficult situation because it's a beautiful old building,” park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said in an interview.
“It has so much history. People love the Enchanted Valley Chalet. We've been looking at what we can do.”
To determine the best course of action, the park is working with the state historic preservation officials, the regional office of the National Park Service and various organizations and concerns citizens.
One concerned citizen, Rod Farlee of Sequim, said the chalet should have been moved a long time ago.
“The Enchanted Valley Chalet is the most significant historic structure within the Olympic Wilderness,” said Farlee, a member of the Back Country Horsemen of Washington.
“It predates the creation of Olympic National Park.
“It would be a real loss if we let it fall into the river.”
Farlee provided a 2005 report authored by National Park Service geomorphologist Paul Kennard, who concluded that the channel would “shift catastrophically” within five years.
“The only way to ensure the chalet's safety, in the short term and with any degree of certainty, is to relocate it immediately,” Kennard wrote.
Simply moving the chalet away from the river would “allow time for the study of a possible long-term action,” Farlee said.
Park officials say it's not that simple.
“What we've learned is there aren't any ways that are technically or economically feasible to protect the chalet in the long term,” Maynes said.
“If there was unlimited funding, and if we were talking about a building that was in a road access area, then we'd have a greater number of options.”
“In addition, it is a wilderness, a designated wilderness, and it has been since 1988,” Maynes added.
“The use of mechanical equipment is to be absolutely minimized in the wilderness. We are to preserve the wilderness character of the area.”
Reinforcing the river bank or redirecting the main channel would be problematic, too, because of the impacts to fish habitat and natural resources, Maynes said.
Jeff Monroe, owner of Carlsborg-based Monroe House Moving, has reached out to park officials about moving the chalet.
It would take about $40,000 plus six helicopter trips to accomplish the feat in one week, he said.
“They know I can do it, and I want to do it,” Monroe said.
“It needs to get on the fast track now.”
Maynes said the helicopter option would be feasible if the funding were available.
Moreover, it would have to be done “in a way that would protect natural and wilderness values,” Maynes said.
Maynes has said there is no bedrock in the valley that would be a “safe zone” for the chalet.
“There isn't anywhere to move it that we're aware of at this point,” Maynes said in a January interview after the river bank came within 18 inches of the chalet.
Built by valley residents in the early 1930s, the chalet has served as a lodge for hikers and horseback riders and is used as a backcountry ranger station and emergency shelter.
“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.
Creachbaum invited the public to post photos or memories of the chalet on the Olympic National Park Facebook page.
Monroe said a Thursday news release from the park “sounds like an obituary to me.”
“It's like they've already thrown in the towel,” Monroe said.
Maynes said the park has been “trying to develop an understanding of what the feasibility of our options might be.”
“At this point, there isn't a firm plan,” she said.
Crews will continue to assess and document the chalet's condition.
“Plans are being made to get up there and look at additional elements that could be taken out and saved,” Maynes said.
“We may not have an economically feasible way to save the entire building.”
Farlee maintains that cost is not the issue.
“Certainly wilderness values, historic values and the constraints of a very active river are the issues,” Farlee said.
“Moving the channel would not be difficult. It might be the option that has the least environmental impact, compared to allowing the chalet to fall into the river.”
Maynes said there are “many resources to be considered.”
“It's a tough situation,” she said. “It's a really tough situation.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: March 23. 2014 6:11PM