Olympic National Park visitors, from left, Nelson Nunez, Mateo Sancho and Albert Martinez, all from New York City, look at an information board at Hurricane Ridge after the area was reopened to the public on Tuesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Olympic National Park visitors, from left, Nelson Nunez, Mateo Sancho and Albert Martinez, all from New York City, look at an information board at Hurricane Ridge after the area was reopened to the public on Tuesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Visitors flocking to reopened Ridge

Kilmer: Too early to tell about funds for new lodge

PORT ANGELES — The Rich family from Grapevine, Texas, had no idea the Hurricane Ridge Day Lodge had burned to the ground when they drove up to the entrance to Olympic National Park at the Heart O’ the Hills Entrance Station on Tuesday.

Or, that their visit coincided with the reopening of the road leading to the structure, which had been completely destroyed on May 7.

“That was a surprise,” said Clay Rich, who, along with his wife Jessica and their sons Max, 12, Miles, 9, and Micah, 7, were strapping on their backpacks in the Hurricane Ridge parking lot and preparing to go for a hike on Klahhane Ridge.

But Hurricane Ridge is open, the trails are mostly free of snow and the vistas are still stunning, even though services and access will be limited for the foreseeable future.

Sula Jacobs, superintendent of Olympic National Park (ONP), said it had been a challenge to open one of its most popular destinations less than two months after a fire left little more than two chimneys, twisted metal and lots of rubble.

“We’re just super appreciative of all the support and a huge thank you to the community,” she said. “It’s been a really rough few months. We recognize how important this place is.”

Jacobs said the park’s partnership with Clallam Transit had been critical in the reopening.

“We called transit and we said, ‘Can you increase your shuttle?’ and they said, ‘We’re already on it,’” Jacobs said.

“Transit being able to offer increased shuttle services has been the most make-it or break-it aspect of this to me.”

Destroyed along with the lodge were its electrical, water and sewer systems. There is no food or beverages for sale, so visitors are strongly encouraged to bring water and snacks with them.

Instead of restrooms, the park installed 25 portable toilets, which serve the needs of visitors and whose capacity determines the number of vehicles that will be allowed on any one day.

After the first 175 personal vehicles enter the park at the Heart O’ the Hills, the next 140 vehicles will be monitored. Once 315 personal vehicles have entered, the road will close to traffic except for cyclists, the Clallam Transit shuttle and those with wilderness permits.

Jacobs said when she arrived at the gate at around 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, 25 vehicles were ahead of her. A little after 10 a.m., the park had already reached the 315 limit.

That number is unlikely to increase.

“We have maxed our port-a-potties and cleaning schedule,” she said.

However, Jacobs said park staff will continually evaluate park usage and are ready to make adjustments to improve visitor experience.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said he had many fond memories of visiting Hurricane Ridge with his family when he was growing up in Port Angeles. So the Congressman from Washington’s 6th District — which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties — said he was taken aback to see the charred remains of the Hurricane Ridge Day Lodge on Tuesday.

“We’d either pack a meal or grab Kentucky Fried Chicken or something like that and then sit up here and eat and walk around up on the Ridge and usually use the facilities,” Kilmer. “I feel like I could walk around the lodge blindfolded and not get lost.

“Everybody who lives in PA knows how important Hurricane Ridge is, not just for locals, but what it means for our local economy and bringing people to the community,” Kilmer said as he visited the Ridge on its first day reopened.

The lodge was undergoing a $10.8 million renovation when it caught fire and the cause remains under investigation, Jacobs said.

Demolition, debris removal and inspecting the utility hub that housed the electrical, water and sewer systems can’t commence until that investigation has been completed.

“We don’t have a time frame,” Jacobs said. “We were very concentrated on getting this open this summer and we were really, really working with the local community to get it open before July Fourth.”

Kilmer said he and the rest of the Washington congressional delegation — Sens. Patty Murray, D-Seattle, and Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace — were aware of the urgency of replacing the lodge.

“We did very early outreach to the park service, saying let’s get things open as quickly as possible and offering whatever support through the appropriations process necessary to make sure that it has the resources both in the near term to see the Ridge open for business, and then over the mid-term and long-term replacing that structure,” Kilmer said.

Kilmer said it is too early to know what kind of, or how much, funding might be available.

“There’s still a lot of variables,” Kilmer said. “We’ll need go through the process of trying to appropriate the funds to rebuild the facility or a facility.”

Albert Martinez, Nelson Nunez and Mateo Sancho were among the 18 passengers on the first Clallam Transit shuttle that left The Gateway transit center at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday. The three visitors from New York City gave playful waves to the line of cars waiting at the park entrance as the shuttle drove by.

Sancho said he had wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest for his 40th birthday because he missed the mountains of his native Spain. The men knew the road to Hurricane Ridge had been closed, but in the time it took them to visit Quinault Lake, Ruby Beach, the Hoh Rain Forest, Lake Crescent and Sol Duc Hot Springs, it opened up again.

“I really wanted to do this park,” Sancho said. “We’ve been three days in the Olympic National Park and this is our grand finale.”

ONP was the final stop on Mailys Martinez and Gael Prieur’s 10-month around-the-world tour. After renting a car in Vancouver, Canada, the couple from Bordeaux, France, drove to Jasper National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Seattle before arriving on the Olympic Peninsula. They read about Hurricane Ridge being closed, but they were happy their visit coincided with its reopening.

“We happened to be here and we knew we wanted to see it,” Martinez said.

________

Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at paula.hunt@soundpublishing.com.

Aaron Neuhouse and Hope Foley, both of North St. Paul, Minn., take the inaugural ride on Clallam Transit from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge after the ridge was reopened to the public on Tuesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Aaron Neuhouse and Hope Foley, both of North St. Paul, Minn., take the inaugural ride on Clallam Transit from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge after the ridge was reopened to the public on Tuesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

The ruins of the Hurricane Ridge Day Lodge remain at the site on Tuesday, the aftermath of a fire that destroyed the structure on May 7. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

The ruins of the Hurricane Ridge Day Lodge remain at the site on Tuesday, the aftermath of a fire that destroyed the structure on May 7. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, right, walks with Olympic National Park Superintendent Sula Jacobs at Hurricane Ridge after the ridge was reopened to visitors on Tuesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, right, walks with Olympic National Park Superintendent Sula Jacobs at Hurricane Ridge after the ridge was reopened to visitors on Tuesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Hurricane Ridge visitors look out over the Olympic Mountains on Tuesday after the ridge was reopened in Olympic National Park. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Hurricane Ridge visitors look out over the Olympic Mountains on Tuesday after the ridge was reopened in Olympic National Park. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

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