Preservation Groups Unite to Support Historic Structures in Olympic National Park

National, state and local preservation groups have recently joined together to support the preservation of historic structures in Olympic National Park, a vast wilderness comprised of glacier-capped mountains, rain forests, and over 70 miles of Pacific coastline. Recently, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled in favor of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and the Friends of Olympic National Park joining litigation in support of the National Park Service’s authority to maintain the historic structures of Olympic National Park.

Following are statements from the preservation groups:

Brian Turner, senior field officer and attorney, National Trust for Historic Preservation:

“The precious few cabins, trail shelters and other rustic structures that remain within the Olympic Wilderness provide an unobtrusive complement to the park’s natural beauty. They enrich visitors’ experience and provide a safe spot for backpackers of all ages to seek shelter during a storm, or to gaze upon the park’s stunning beauty. These structures also serve as a tangible link to the early history of the park, and the distinctive craftsmanship of that era.

“In joining this lawsuit, we are asking the court to affirm the National Park Service’s authority to maintain and manage Olympic’s historic structures in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act and the Wilderness Act. These two laws are in the public interest and can and should be used in concert to guide the stewardship of all wilderness areas in the public domain, to ensure that future generations are able to experience the wealth of America’s natural and structural historic treasures.”

Chris Moore, executive director, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation:

“Olympic National Park is one of the most dramatic landscapes in Washington State. Amid its towering peaks and glacial fields are the last remnants of the places that led to the creation of the Park itself. The historic resources remaining in the backcountry remind Washingtonians of the legacy of the pioneering conservationists who made this cherished park a reality.”

Rod Farlee, vice-president, Friends of Olympic National Park:

“The shelters and cabin at the heart of this lawsuit embody the history of Olympic National Park’s trail system. They were built to support the original construction and maintenance of the trails, which led to widespread appreciation of the beauty and natural resources of the Olympics. We are joining this lawsuit to send a strong message of support to Park staff for their ongoing efforts to preserve this important part of the region’s legacy.”


About the Historic Structures of Olympic National Park

These shelters, including those built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, are closely intertwined with the history of Olympic National Park itself. Originally constructed to support the creation and maintenance of trails in the early 20th century and to detect and fight forest fires, they enhanced recreational use and opened up the park to the public in a way never before possible. Published accounts of visitors who stayed in these shelters led to widespread appreciation of the beauty of the Olympics, and ultimately to its preservation by U.S. Congress in 1938 as a national park and in 1988 as a wilderness. Only 18 of the original 90 shelters in Olympic Wilderness remain today. They are all eligible for or listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service should be encouraged to continue the ongoing maintenance of those remaining to ensure that the Park’s historic shelter system remains intact for all future visitors.

About the Lawsuit

Montana-based Wilderness Watch has sued the National Park Service, seeking the court-ordered removal of four trail shelters and a cabin from the park’s wilderness areas. But the preservation groups supporting NPS believe these rustic log shelters are in keeping with the primitive beauty of the park’s backcountry, visited by 40,000 annually. The preservation groups are represented pro bono by Elaine L. Spencer and David O. Bechtold of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP.

About the Specific Structures at Risk

  • Canyon Creek Shelter constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939 overlooking Sol Duc Falls. This is a T-shaped, one-story log building with a wood-shaked, cross-gabled roof set on a concrete foundation. This shelter is the only CCC-built shelter remaining in the Park of three built. It was listed on the National Register in April 2007 for its architectural significance and association with the CCC.

  • Elk Lake Shelter, 15 trail miles up the Hoh River, is a three-sided 14’ x 14’ log shelter with open front. Shelters at Elk Lake have offered refuge to climbers approaching Mt. Olympus since 1927. This shelter, a replacement built in 1963, represents the last variation of shelter design in the Park.

  • Wilder Shelter, 21 trail miles up the Elwha River, is a 12’ x 12’ three-sided solid log structure built in 1951 to accommodate backcountry visitors. It was listed on the National Register in 2008.

  • Botten Cabin, near Wilder, is an 11’ x 17’ log cabin with gabled roof built in 1928 featuring fine, hand-crafted, dovetail-notched corners. The cabin is actively used as an emergency shelter. It was listed on the National Register in April of 2007 for its architectural significance and association with recreational history in the park.

  • Bear Camp Shelter is a three-sided solid log structure 12’x16’ deep built in 1952. It is 16 trail miles up the Dosewallips River.



The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places. | @savingplaces

Established in 1976, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation preserves Washington’s historic places through advocacy, education, collaboration, and stewardship. | @preservewa

Formed in 2001 with the mission of supporting Olympic National Park in preserving the Park's natural, cultural and recreational resources for the benefit of present and future generations.

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