Park considers moving chalet undercut by river

Staff reportApril 27, 2014 

There might be some hope of saving the Enchanted Valley Chalet after all.

The staff at Olympic National Park is preparing an environmental assessment that will examine a short-term action to protect the chalet that is threatened by the Quinault River.

The assessment will be released for an expedited public comment period within the next few weeks.

Park officials said the assessment will analyze potential impacts of moving the chalet a short distance away from its current location where it is being undercut by the East Fork Quinault River.

Photos from park visitors in early January showed the main channel of the river had moved to within 18 inches of the 1930s-era chalet. Winter storms and high flows have resulted in the Quinault’s main channel continuing to shift by at least 15 feet in the past four months. Recent photographs show that the river has undercut the building by about 8 feet.

Moving the chalet is intended to protect the river and instream natural resources from immediate harm and will provide additional time to develop a plan that will address the long-term future of the historic building.

Moving the chalet will not provide long-term protection of either the building or the area’s natural or wilderness resources, park officials said in a news release. Potential long-term solutions will be examined in a second assessment that will entail spending more time developing multiple alternatives and additional public comment opportunities.

“The National Park Service is charged with protecting all of Olympic National Park’s priceless resources, from historic structures like the chalet to bull trout, a federally listed threatened species that lives in the East Fork Quinault, to the unique and irreplaceable character of the Olympic Wilderness,” Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said in the news release.

“Taking a two-step approach to the evolving situation in Enchanted Valley allows us to address immediate resource protection needs while allowing more time to find a feasible solution that protects park resources into the future,” she added.

The decision to look at moving the structure also represents a change in thinking by park managers. In late March, park spokeswoman Barb Maynes told The News Tribune “there is no feasible option available that would provide long-term preservation of the chalet in Enchanted Valley.”

A park crew was at the remote cabin in March to assess and document the structure’s condition. They also removed equipment, supplies and hazardous materials. The building’s windows were also removed to prevent the glass, should the windows break, from affecting the river and downstream natural resources, and to preserve elements of the historic building.

The chalet is 13 miles from the nearest road, deep within the Olympic Wilderness. The chalet was constructed by Quinault Valley residents in the early 1930s, prior to the park’s establishment. The chalet served for several decades as a backcountry lodge and more recently, as a wilderness ranger station and emergency shelter. The chalet was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

MARCH VISITS

Mount Rainier

March 2014: 19,935

March 2013: 22,315

Difference: -10.7 percent

Year to date 2014: 54,4014

Year to date 2013: 60,988

Difference: -10.8 percent

Poor weather kept park visitors away for the second straight month. Despite being down nearly 11 percent compared to March 2013, last month’s count is above the five-year average of 17,188.

Olympic

March 2014: 106,803

March 2013: 119,954

Difference: -11 percent

Year to date 2014: 258,620

Year to date 2013: 278,923

Difference: -7.3 percent

There were significant declines in recreation visits in the Elwha and Kalaloch districts last month, leading to the double-digit decline. Last month’s tally is below the five-year average of 103,384 visits.

National Park Service

March 2014: 17,684,728

March 2013: 18,046,998

Difference: -2.01 percent

Year to date 2014: 38,824,576

Year to date 2013: 40,713,357

Difference: -4.64 percent

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