I started with the Olympic Park Associates’ (OPA) Preliminary Assessment. While their assessment of the draft Plan covers more ground than I’m able to, it is a good place to start for those interested in commenting on the plan. The scope of my comments includes the size of boundary adjustments proposed, the definition of river preservation zones in key areas, and the scale of the development area within the Park
Alternative D is a selection of elements from the two straw man alternatives: B, which emphasizes resource protection and C, which increases visitor access to the Park. Neither of those alternatives meets the requirements of the planning process and the Park’s purpose, but they are very useful for identifying opportunities for both of those topics. My assessment of alternative D is that it misses several of the key opportunities identified in alternative B. It also greatly increases the area available for development in the Park. The overall result of these choices is that the draft Plan creates a “balance” that leans heavily away from the protection and enhancement of the natural resources contained in the Park.
Alternative B contains a set of proposals that are exciting to me, as I’m interested in the ability of the Park to contain and preserve ecosystems. Much of the Park’s boundary is arbitrary. Some of those straight lines are adjusted by adjoining wilderness boundaries that provide protections along watershed boundaries. Alternative B represents an opportunity to fix more of these problems and without any cost to visitor access. So, why does Alternative D contain such a watered-down version of those possible adjustments?
In the words of the OPA’s assessment: “Park boundaries could be expanded in five critical areas (Lake Crescent and Ozette Lake, and Hoh, Queets, and Quinault watersheds) to conform with watershed basins to help recovering salmon populations and protect critical elk habitat.”
- The Lake Crescent (link to PDF map, around 2.0 MB) boundary adjustment in Alternative B includes the lake’s outlet, the Lyre River, and all of its major tributary, Boundary Creek. This has been reduced to a small portion of the Lyre River around the outlet of the lake.
- The Ozette Lake (link to PDF map, around 2.0 MB) adjustment in Alt. B includes the major portion of the area that drains into the lake is reduced to a narrow strip around the lake, which bears no relation to the watershed boundaries.
- The Hoh River (link to PDF map, around 1.3 MB) adjustment in Alt. B includes much of the land adjacent to the Park that is in the South Fork Hoh River watershed and extends the Park’s boundaries down the main fork of the river for another mile or two. This disappears in Alt. D.
- The Queets River (link to PDF map, around 1.5 MB) adjustment in Alt. B, which includes all of the north-side watershed of the river, is reduced to a small, square-boundary portion in Alt. D. This adjustment is sorely needed. The protected area is very narrow here – you can mostly see through it along the river.
- The Quinault River (link to PDF map, around 2.3 MB) adjustment in Alt. B would add a good strip of land along the south shore of the river from Lake Quinault to the Park boundary. This also disappears in Alt. D.
Several of the Park’s roads and a few of its facilities lie in the floodplains of salmon-bearing rivers. Alternative B suggests a “river zone” for the Quinault, Hoh, and Queets Rivers. (The links above for the named rivers show the areas proposed in purple.) In the words of the draft Plan, this would mean that the “range of management actions that might be undertaken to address changes in resource conditions include removing facilities or roads, closing and rehabilitating unwanted trails, closing areas seasonally, removing invasive plants and revegetating using native plants, and expanding educational programs.” This could mean allowing natural river meander changes to break roads and trails and moving roads and facilities out of the floodplain.
These kinds of measures create an opportunity for greatly improving the health of these important rivers and their lowland habitat. Obviously, moving roads and facilities, including the Hoh Visitor Center (should that be decided upon), could accumulate significant costs. And they could – I emphasize “could” – affect visitor access, at least temporarily.
The planners should consider the creation of river zones more carefully, especially on the Queets and Quinault Rivers. The zones on those two rivers seem to carry higher benefit to cost ratios, considering where on the river they occur, the facilities that they might affect, and the area that they protect.
One of the alarming aspects of the development-oriented Alternative C is the enlargement of the “development zones” in the Park, many of them in river floodplains. The zone concept, according to the Plan, is “concentrated visitor service facilities, overnight lodging, developed campgrounds (with up to 250 campsites, flush toilets, and cold running water) and park operational facilities would be accommodated. Road access is via unpaved or paved road.” (Draft GMP/EIS, p. 57)
Now, I like the developed areas found in the Park today. I use the running water and flush toilets, the interpretive structures, and the park operational facilities, as well as, of course, the roads and trails. Still, I question the dramatic expansion in the development zone area in certain places in the Park. Two factors support this question. The first is this quote from the draft Plan, which suggests that most facilities will continue to function well:
“Most existing facilities provide good visitor opportunities and, based on projected trends, will continue to function well…Certain frontcountry visitor centers are extremely crowded during the summer season, and the displays are outdated.” (Draft GMP/EIS, p. 74)
I may have missed it (the draft Plan is quite long and I didn’t read every word), but I didn’t see a description of problems with the facilities and how they definitely needed expansion. The other factor is the visitation data provided in the draft Plan. Although the last fifteen years of data suggests a slow growth in visitation, up to 4 million visit over the next ten years (from just over 3 million 2004, the last year reported in the draft Plan), the last twelve years show a flat visitation trend, running at about 3.4 million over those twelve years. This doesn’t suggest the need for a dramatic increase in development in the Park.
These areas are proposed for significant development area expansion:
- Elwha (link to PDF map, around 1.6 MB) – The area around the Elwha is expanded in all of the alternatives, except the status quo. It’s not clear what plans the Service has for those development zones, as the details provided in the maps and alternative descriptions do not specify them. I’m particularly concerned about the extension of the development areas around the Lake Mills area, which will, once the Elwha dams are removed, become extremely sensitive to the disturbances that development will bring.
- Hoh (link to PDF map above) – Surprisingly, the area proposed for the Alt. D is even larger than the area proposed for Alt. C. No details about the planner’s plans for this additional area are specified, at least that I could find.
- Quinault (link above), Sol Duc (link to PDF map, around 1.6 MB), Staircase (link to PDF map, around 0.8 MB) – Likewise, I can’t tell from the materials I could find the reason for the significant expansion of the development area.
The draft Plan is a well-built document, full of excellent information, with good descriptions of the Park and its alternative futures, and containing solid analysis of those alternatives. Unfortunately, the preferred alternative is timid and leans too heavily in the direction of visitor access, shortchanging the goal of protection of the unique and world-class resources contained within the Park. It should include all of the boundary changes proposed in Alternative B, not the seriously diminished and unjustified options proposed in the preferred alternatives. The Plan should also include more consideration of the River Zone designations proposed in Alternative B, though there may be significant costs associated with them. Finally, the Plan should also reconsider the dramatic expansions of the Development Areas proposed in the preferred alternative. With the excellent work put into the draft Plan by the planning team and carefully considered improvements, the final Plan can be a document that will guide the Park into the future of resource protection and visitor enjoyment and recreation.