Lake Crescent residents worried by plan for wilderness next door

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Some residents of Lake Crescent are worried about a rider to a tsunami protection bill that designates 4,100 acres near them — and miles away from the beach — as wilderness.

The legislation is aimed at allowing the Quileute tribe of LaPush to move to higher ground in Olympic National Park in the event of a tsunami like that which devastated part of northeastern Japan in April.

The group Friends of Lake Crescent supports higher ground for the Quileute, but it’s worried about the higher designation of wilderness adjacent to their properties.

That would change how they can use their land and the lake, Margaret Womack, president of Friends of Lake Crescent, said.

Families who owned properties along the lake when the area was added to Olympic National Park were “grandfathered” — allowed to keep their homes in the national park.

Those homes, which cannot be sold, have been passed down through their families since then, Womack said.

The 4,100 acres earmarked for wilderness protection are already part of Olympic National Park.

What would change its “low use” designation to the higher protection of “wilderness.” That change would affect whether new roads or trails could be cut through the area.

“Our biggest concern is now is that it abuts us and is right next to many of the in-holders,” Womack said.

Friends of Lake Crescent represents about 200 people — including spouses and children — and about 90 properties.

The group is mostly concerned that the change in designation would change how they would be able to use their homes or the lake — for example motorboats, which are now allowed, she said.

“We have been told that it won’t affect us —but we have been told that before,” said Dan Peacock, vice president of the group.

“There is a slow erosion of personal property rights.”

He cited the 1999 loss of the ability to use personal watercraft commonly called by the trademark Jet Skis on the lake and catch-and-release fishing rules.

“They said it would be temporary, but it seems like the park’s definition of temporary is permanent,” he said.

Womack, Peacock and Jim Hoare, another member of the group, all said they don’t believe the area qualifies as wilderness because of the past and current uses — such as property owners using water from the creeks and an adjacent mine.

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, asked Olympic National Park to work with the Quileute tribe to draft the language for the bill, said park spokeswoman Barb Maynes, who attended some of the negotiation meetings.

“We did do an assessment to make sure that it would qualify and it did,” she said.

Dicks introduced the bill March 17 along with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace.

The addition of the wilderness was included as part of the bill as an exchange because the park would be giving up some wilderness, Maynes said.

“That is an unusual move,” she said.

Of the 772 acres in the bill that could be transferred to the tribe for higher ground, about 200 is currently designated as wilderness.

Maynes said the designation wouldn’t affect how the property owners use their properties because a buffer was written in and uses such as boating would likely continue because the lake itself wasn’t being designated as wilderness.

“There is nothing about the status of the lake itself that is changing,” she said.

“That is what would have possible impacts on that. And even in that case there are many, many examples of current uses being continued even in areas that are designated wilderness.”

Friends of Lake Crescent were also concerned because when land is designated as wilderness, an assessment plan along with public comment is often done, Peacock said.

In this case, the designation was changing without the plan, he said.

The suggestion of it changing was addressed during the General Management Plan process, in which the plan chosen for Lake Crescent suggests that the portion north of the lake be designated as wilderness.

George Behan, spokesman for Dicks, said that through the General Management Plan and now as the bill is in committee the group will have a chance to have their opinions heard.

“The hearings that will take place in the House and Senate committees will allow for these views to be presented and evaluated prior to any final action on this legislation,” he said.

Jared Leopold, spokesman for Cantwell, said her office had received a letter and was evaluating the issue.

“We’re certainly aware of the concerns that the Friends of Lake Crescent have, and we’ll take them into account as the discussion on the proposal moves forward,” he said.

Quileute Tribal Chairwoman Bonita Cleveland said it wasn’t the tribe’s place to weigh in on that part of the issue.

“This is a discussion that should take place with Congressman Dicks and the park,” she said.

_________

Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

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