Brinnon: Townsfolk buoyed over plans to rebuild Dosewallips Road; environmentalists aren”t

BRINNON — It’s hard to find someone in Brinnon not in support of rebuilding Dosewallips Road.

It’s an economic driver, say some. For others, they simply want way to get into the high country of Olympic National Park.

Both things are possible without rebuilding the road, environmentalists say.

“Here we are a nation of obese folks because we don’t move around very much,” Olympic Forest Coalition spokeswoman Peggy Bruton said Tuesday.

“It’s kind of exemplary to me.”

She added: “I know that people are saying this is a jumping-off place for wilderness access — it is that whether it’s rebuilt or not.”

But what Bruton and other environmentalists don’t understand, longtime Brinnon residents say, is that the road is a way of life for many in the community.

“Anytime we had company, we’d take them to the end of the road,” Ida Bailey said Tuesday. “That was the thing we did every time.”

The “end of the road” was one of only two motorized entrances to Olympic National Park on the Peninsula’s east side, the other being Staircase 30 miles to the south.

Two campgrounds, waterfalls and spectacular mountain views were all available from a car window or a short walk.

“At present the only access is by way of a trail so difficult so as to be available only to the most able and fit hikers,” Jefferson County Commissioner Pat Rodgers said Tuesday.

“Our parks were never meant for the exclusive use of a small group.

“The opening of the road provides access to all citizens regardless of their age or disability,” Rodgers, R-Brinnon, said.

That is an argument headed off by Bruton.

“I’m 68 years old,” she said. “I’m approaching the time when a lot of my favorite places are going to become inaccessible to me.”

“I will personally make trouble for anybody that uses the disabled and senior argument.

“I want those places to be there for my children, grandchildren and their children.”

At 83, Bailey and her husband Vern, 84, say the bottom line is they want to share the wilderness area with their eight grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchild.

They have owned a 200-acre homestead along the Dosewallips River since the 1940s.

Vern Bailey came to Brinnon from Wyoming when he was 19 years old and planned to return after the winter.

He met Ida, and it was 15 years before he stepped foot in Wyoming again.

The January 2002 washout isn’t the first along the gravel road.

The Baileys recall a similar washout in November 1949. The Forest Service had the road repaired before summer.

Business slowdown

Down the road, Joe and Joy Baisch own Elk Meadows Bed and Breakfast and Nursery.

Traffic on the road has decreased substantially since the washout, the Baischs and Baileys contend.

Only two guests have stayed at the B&B this winter, Joy Baisch said.

Six miles up the road from the washout, the Dosewallips Ranger Station sits empty.

Nearby, 50 campsites have only been seen since 2001 by backpackers who have hiked in from the washout 10 miles west of U.S. Highway 101.

Bruton maintains that there are plenty of campsites in Brinnon to make up for the loss.

But even Forest Service Ranger David Craig, who has taken to looking at the issue impartially, admits that sites at sea level offer a wholly different experience from camping in the high country.

Craig led a group of about a dozen Federal Highway Administration engineers and Forest Service biologists and geologists around the gaping 300-foot washout Tuesday.

Work is already under way to design the replacement road that will go over a nearby hill.

‘You gonna fix the road?’

As the group talked among themselves at the washout Tuesday afternoon, two hikers walked up to Craig before they transversed the makeshift trail around the washout.

“You guys gonna fix the road?” Troy Bower of Hansville asked Craig.

“We plan to,” Craig told him.

“We just made the decision today.”

Bower and Brenda Ellingson tell Craig that they plan to hike to the Elkhorn campground and stay overnight.

“This has always been one of my favorite spots because it’s so close, I just wish they’d fix the road,” Bower said.

“I’m missing seeing what’s up there.”

What’s up there is why the road exists in the first place, according to Ken Shock, a leading road proponent and part-time Brinnon resident for 15 years.

“When these national parks were formed,” Shock said, “the government and environmentalists said, ‘Get the public in there and let them see the glory and splendor of it, and they’ll all want to preserve it.”‘

Environmental groups like Olympic Forest Coalition are harming themselves if they hope to save wilderness areas like Dosewallips, Shock claimed.

Bruton disagreed.

“Back in the 1920s, that’s way back before the dawn of ecology as a science,” she said, “people weren’t really considering such things.

“What’s different now is we really understand better the need for . . . nonmotorized backcountry recreation and the need for a habitat for other species and how precious and rare that is.

“There’s plenty of absolutely splendid places that can be reached by car,” she said.

One of those places

Olympic National Park’s top official believes Dosewallips should be one of those car-accessible places, though.

Five percent of the nearly 1 million acres inside the park boundary is accessible by car, Park Superintendent Bill Laitner said.

He called Dosewallips a “small but important” part of that 5 percent.

In Brinnon, the road is seen as a economic driver for the small community.

About 27,000 visitors came to the area in 2001, according to the National Park Service.

The Halfway House restaurant sitting off Highway 101 has seen a drop in summer business since the washout, said Vikki Murray, who works in the cafe owned by her parents.

When the campsites up Dosewallips Road were full, many travelers would stop into the restaurant, have a bite to eat and ask for directions to a new site, she said.

Now the visitors who do stop in ask when the road will be reopened, Murray said.

Low interest rates have kept the south Jefferson County real estate market strong, even with fewer people coming to the area, Johnston Realty owner Stan Johnston said.

“But I think in the long run the road closure is going to hurt us,” he said.

“I don’t really understand why they’re objecting to rebuilding the road.

“The county has zoned us to the point where there’s not a lot of potential for businesses here,” he said. “This is a tiny thing we can do — it’s kind of ridiculous not to do it.”

Across the street at the Brinnon General Store, clerk Kelly Beringer doesn’t believe he’s seen a drop in customers at the gas station and convenience store.

As a 15-year Quilcene resident, Beringer said he is not sure there’s been a drop in traffic, but he acknowledges the drawing power of the campgrounds up in the mountains.

“The more places people can stay, the better.”

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Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group

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