How Olympic National Park plans to increase its acreage
by VANESSA RENEE CASAVANT
Peninsula Daily News
Port Angeles, WA - It's been almost 20 years since Congress designated 95 percent of Olympic National Park as wilderness.
Now the park, in its preferred draft of a general management plan, wants to increase its acreage of restricted wilderness at Lake Crescent and Lake Ozette.
The 1988 Wilderness Act defines wilderness as ``federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvement or human habitation.''
At Lake Crescent, the area north of the Spruce Rail Road Trail is being considered for wilderness designation.
Included is 1,600 acres the park wants to acquire at the northwest tip of the lake.
The same is true at Lake Ozette, where 12,000 acres that will be considered for wilderness designation is private land the park wants to purchase from willing sellers.
The plan also calls for minor changes in wilderness areas in the Hoh, Queets and Quinault areas.
The changes would be made to provide changes in access roads to those areas, but no net loss of wilderness is expected.
Managing the land
Changing to a wilderness management plan in the Lake Crescent and Lake Ozette areas would affect visitors beneficially or adversely, depending on the type of visitor, according to the draft plan.
Facilities such as trail bridges, ranger stations, historic structures, toilets and signs would remain in the new wilderness areas.
However, some ``non-historic'' facilities could be removed, according to the draft plan.
Most existing trails in the areas, including the Pyramid Mountain Trail north of the Spruce Railroad Trail, would also remain.
However, the class of trail might be reduced from a ``low-use zone'' to a ``wilderness trail zone.''
The main difference between the two:
There would be no access roads to the wilderness trails, and the trails would be open only to foot traffic and riders with stock animals such as horses.
Areas for camping might also be limited along some of the trails.
The draft plan also calls for continuing the $15 permit registration fee and $2 nightly fee for camping in park wilderness areas.
Yearly fees for $30 and group fees would also be available.
The process for designating an area of the park as wilderness has three phases.
The first is assessing the land to determine its suitability for wilderness designation.
The land can't have any ``non-conforming uses'' such as roads or airports, said Nancy Hendricks, the park's environmental protection specialist.
After the suitability assessment, a study would be done on the land.
Then a recommendation to designate the land as wilderness would go before Congress.
Once the land is classified as wilderness, only Congress can remove the designation.
The prior designation
The original 1988 designation of wilderness has caused problems in land-swap negotiations between the park and Quileute tribe.
They have been trying to work out a land-swap deal since January 2005.
To move their school and village center out of a tsunami zone, the tribe needs higher ground south of the reservation at LaPush
It's the only higher ground next to the reservation but is almost entirely designated as restricted wilderness.
The tribe has said that it was not consulted during the designation process.
Having the designation has slowed down talks, prompting the tribe close access to the Second Beach trailhead and the breakwater south of Rialto Beach in October.
The park in turn had to close the entire Second Beach Trail because not all of it could be accessed for maintenance or patrol.
The two popular tourist destinations are still closed, and the tribe is planning a demonstration at Rialto Beach during Quileute Days the week of July 10.