Hazard trees prompt winter campground closures

Kalaloch, Mora and Staircase in Olympic National Park affected

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Several Olympic National Park campgrounds will be closed from Nov. 1 through March 31 because of the risk posed by hazard trees, park personnel said.

Park officials announced late Wednesday that the following areas will be closed during that time: Staircase Campground, all sections; Mora Campground, Loops A, B, C and E; and Kalaloch Campground, South Loop.

“We are managing these trees so our campgrounds are safe,” said Olympic National Park spokeswoman Molly Pittman.

According to a park press release, “compromised tree health and stability in these areas has increased the risk of tree falls in winter conditions.”

Armillaria root rot has weakened the stability of some conifer and broadleaf trees in the forest surrounding Staircase Campground. Armillaria kills the tree by cutting off nutrient flow to the upper parts of the tree, according to the release.

Compromised roots can cause the tree to fall during winter conditions when soils are wet, winds are strong and the canopies are carrying heavy snow. Park staff and partnering scientists will continue to monitor and remove hazard trees.

Dwarf mistletoe has infected the stems of some hemlock trees at Mora Campground. While these stem infections don’t kill the tree, they do allow fungi to invade the tree and cause rot.

Infected trees are unlikely to fail under normal conditions. Strong winter winds could cause infected trees to break at the infection site.

Loop D will be open to visitors after park hazard tree inspectors identify and remove the infected hemlocks.

The forest history at Kalaloch Campground left the area with many trees standing on stilted roots. Under normal conditions, these trees can be stable. When subjected to strong winds and wet soils, common winter weather conditions on the coast, these trees can fail. Annosus root disease was also detected as this campground.

In September 2022, Thomas Bernier-Villeneuve, 34, of Montreal died when a tree fell on his tent at Elk Lake, a remote wilderness area about 15 miles from the Hoh Rainforest Ranger Station.

Pittman said that incident occurred in a wilderness area, which is different from the front country campgrounds covered by the current closure.

What caused that tree to fall remains under investigation, she said.

For the latest information about park campgrounds, see https://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/campgroundstatus.htm.

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Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at brian.gawley@peninsuladailynews.com.

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