SITTING ON THE bank of the Sol Duc River, Stan Fouts said, “I love my national park but I could drown the administration in the river.”
Fouts is a special breed of West End folks who don’t seem comfortable unless their gaze is free to roam the wild. Even in a heavy downpour, it is a roof that dampens his spirits, not the rain.
His life in Clallam County has been spent mostly outdoors.
He made it through his tedious school years, first at Lincoln then at Port Angeles High School. He even was a member of Peninsula College’s first class in 1961. There his student number was 93.
“I was getting sick in fall and spring looking out the windows of college, thinking I wasn’t out there doing something physical,” Fouts said.
Even though he joined the Navy for two years, he was happy to get seasonal work for Olympic National Park as a “camp tender” at Kalaloch.
After working for the park for four years, “I finally got on with the trail crew which is what I really wanted,” Fouts said.
However, that job was not as satisfying as he had hoped and he quit because of what he perceived as bureaucracy. Fouts instead went to work for the Forest Service.
He said, “The Forest Service was really a family atmosphere in the late ’60s and early ’70s.”
He retired from the Forest Service in 1994 after 30 years of employment with that agency. Since then, he has held employment and various contracts doing survey and recovery work.
If anyone has camped or hiked West End wilderness areas, they have probably encountered Fouts’ handiwork. His work for all of the large public and private land holders has made him somewhat of a trail-building legend.
His advice for trail building is: “Don’t make it straight, you want to keep it interesting and keep people wondering what’s around the next bend.”
Fouts also has a critical eye on what goes on in the forest far beyond just the scope of trails.
“As residents, we know the national park doesn’t have human interests in mind,” he said. “The tourists don’t know it because they come for a week or two and go home, but we know because we stay.”
He cited the shelters of Olympic National Park as an example, pointing to the Mink Lake shelter as a prime example.
“The park said that shelter was falling into disrepair because of the weather, but it was actually people taking the shakes for firewood.”
“Where the Kalaloch ranger station sits is wetlands,” Fouts said, commenting on the “feds.”
“My dad worked on filling it in and said the fill the buildings now sit on is several feet deep.”
At 77 years old, Fouts’ body is slender and lanky like vine maple. His mind is impressively sharp, though people’s names come a little slower than he’d like.
He keeps a daily journal where he records his thoughts and musings. Fouts also has many shelves packed with neatly organized photographs and other tidbits such as newspaper clippings.
His wife, Sherrill, was a historian in her own right, having run the Forks Timber Museum for 20 years. She died in September of 2016.
Their home is a museum in itself between the scrapbooks, collected antiques and assorted treasures collected from the forest.
Together, the Fouts have four adult children: Norah, Kevin, Andy and Daniel.
Fouts sat at the base of an old springboard stump while we chatted.
We had gone to a trail he built close to his home by the Sol Duc River. He had designed the trail in part to help local scout troops work on compass readings.
This day though, he was mildly disturbed by a “No Trespassing” sign that had recently been posted. As he knows somebody who works for almost any timber-related organization on the West End, he figured he could get permission to walk beyond the sign with just a phone call.
Regardless of the length of the walk in the woods, Fouts is sure to bring his orange hard hat, surveyors vest and walking stick.
The pockets of the vest have the essentials for surviving an unexpected stay in the forest. He also packs a 35 mm camera wherever he goes.
At a guess, Fouts believes he has more than 200 photos of strangers he has met on the trail.
“I enjoy visiting with people and it doesn’t matter who you are, you are someone I want to talk to,” he said.
He records a little bit about everyone he photographs in a pocket-sized notebook and adds them to his collection.
Will he ever go digital? He answers with an emphatic “No,” and said he has his wife’s digital camera but doesn’t use it.
Zorina Barker lives in the Sol Duc Valley with her husband, a logger, and two children she home-schools.
Submit items and ideas for the column to her at zorinabarker [email protected], or call her at 360-461-7928. West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.
Her next column will be June 26.