Established under President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 29, 1938, Olympic National Park has obtained global renown as a natural reserve. The park, encompassing 922,650 acres on the Olympic Peninsula, comprises landscapes ranging from subalpine meadows and rugged peaks to temperate rainforests and Pacific coast. Indigenous people have inhabited and managed the natural resources of the Olympic region for thousands of years, and the park's borders fall across the traditional lands of the Skokomish, Klallam, Makah, Quileute, Hoh, Queets, and Quinault people. In 1897, more than 2 million acres were withdrawn from the public domain to create the Olympic Forest Reserve. Designation of Mount Olympus National Monument under the Antiquities Act followed in 1909. By the 1930s, Forest Service management practices had ignited a campaign for a national park intended to protect the region's old-growth forests and wildlife. Though conservationists won the designation of Olympic National Park in 1938, their victory was by no means permanent; rare is the natural reserve whose existence has occasioned such bitter and enduring conflict. Skirmishes over the park's boundaries and the governance of its resources, especially its vast timber wealth, would recur through the years. Today, Olympic ranks among the most popular American national parks, averaging more than 3 million visitors each year.
First People of the Olympic Country
While many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century accounts of the Olympic Range claimed that the mountains "lay untouched by human foot until the white man very tardily entered the unknown country" (Roloff, 217), there is good evidence in the form of archaeological findings and traditional knowledge that the landscape now called Olympic National Park has sustained human habitation for thousands of years. The Manis mastodon, discovered in 1977, was killed and processed by Paleolithic hunters near the current park boundary around 13,800 years ago. A 2,880-year-old basket fragment found under a snowbank on Obstruction Point, along with other evidence recovered throughout the high country, attest to human activity in the mountains over millennia. Roads and mountain paths that park visitors follow today were first explored by the indigenous people of the region; as Quileute writer Harry Hobucket recorded, the people "made long journeys for purposes of war or trade and had many well-defined trails ... There were hundreds of such trails scattered throughout the country" (Hobucket, 51-52).
The people of the Olympic Peninsula foraged for berries, nuts, and roots, mounted inland hunting expeditions in pursuit of land mammals such as deer and elk, and manipulated the local ecosystem with techniques such as prairie burning. Along the coast, permanent maritime traditions developed between 3,000 and 1,000 years ago. Settlements such as the Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen thrived on harvests of fish, shellfish, birds, and sea mammals. The Makah village at Ozette was home to a whaling and sealing society with a sophisticated aesthetic culture represented in patterned woven blankets, decorated chests, and finely carved tools of wood and bone.
Contacts with European and American voyagers multiplied in the late eighteenth century. A smallpox epidemic that devastated Northwest peoples in the 1770s and 1780s may have been introduced by seafaring colonists, such as the Spanish party whose 1775 encounter with the Quinault people escalated into violence. Olympic communities suffered further outbreaks of smallpox and other infectious diseases such as influenza and measles in the nineteenth century. By 1855, the Klallam and Chimakum people numbered an estimated 1,106 people, less than half their population of approximately 2,400 in 1780. Among the Makah, losses were likewise catastrophic, from an estimated 1,200 people in the early 1840s to 654 in 1861.
It was under these circumstances that Washington Territory Governor Isaac Stevens pursued a series of treaties with Olympic Peninsula tribes, radically changing their relationship to their homeland. The Treaty of Point No Point, the Treaty of Neah Bay, and the Quinault Treaty, signed in 1855 and 1856, established reservations at Skokomish, Neah Bay, and Taholah that made up a small fragment of the tribes' historic territories. Those individuals designated as tribal representatives reluctantly agreed to cede their lands only once they were guaranteed the "right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations" and of "hunting and gathering roots and berries on open and unclaimed lands" (Treaty of Neah Bay, 1855).
Non-Native emigration to the Olympic Peninsula was impeded by its distance from markets and lack of roads. In the late nineteenth century, development of the local timber industry attracted European immigrants such as Dora and John Huelsdonk, who settled along the Upper Hoh River in the 1890s. However, most settlers did not persist for long under the onerous burden of clearing brush, burning stumps, and hauling goods over forbidding terrain that characterized Olympic homesteading. One survey reported that for 341 homestead entries filed in one part of Clallam County, only 83 residents remained in 1899.
The Forest Service Era
The first recorded proposals for an Olympic National Park appear in reports by two mountaineering expeditions of 1890. That summer, Tacoma lawyer James Wickersham (1857-1939) and his family conducted a 20-day trek up the Skokomish River, where they found the "heaviest forest growth in North America ... untouched by fire or ax" (Wickersham, 13). Wickersham wrote that the "reservation of this area as a national park" would "serve the twofold purpose of a great pleasure ground for the Nation and be a means of securing and protecting the finest forests in America" (Wickersham, 13). Lieutenant Joseph P. O'Neil (1863-1938) of the Olympic Exploring Expedition, whose party ascended a peak of Mount Olympus the same summer, agreed that the mountains would "serve admirably for a national park," citing also the need to protect the region's elk, "that noble animal so fast disappearing from this country" (Exploration of the Olympic Mountains, 20).
On March 3, 1891, Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act, permitting the establishment of wooded reserves from land held in the public domain. A few months later, Wickersham sent an article and maps of his Olympic expedition to John Wesley Powell, head of the U.S. Geological Survey. "I am informed that you are now preparing to recommend several reservations, under the Act of March 3," he wrote, "and I send you this with the hope that you may be induced to make the proposed park" (Wickersham, 5). Wickersham's hope was realized on February 22, 1897, when President Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) issued a proclamation designating 13 new forest reserves, including the 2,188,000-acre Olympic Forest Reserve. A subsequent Geological Survey report estimated that the reserve held more than 60 billion board feet of timber, a volume "sufficient to supply the entire United States demand for two years" (Dodwell and Rixon, 14).
Under Cleveland's successor, President William McKinley (1843-1901), opponents of the reserve moved to cut back its boundaries. With the support of the timber industry and its allies, McKinley issued proclamations in April 1900 and July 1901 returning more than a third of the reserve's land to the public domain. As Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), the nation's chief forester, observed, "Nearly every acre of it ... passed promptly and fraudulently into the hands of lumbermen" (Lien, 21). In 1905, the Olympic Forest Reserve came under the authority of the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture, and in 1907 it was renamed Olympic National Forest. With Pinchot's support, President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) restored 127,680 acres to the national forest in the same year.
National park proposals reappeared in the early twentieth century as conservation groups such as the Boone and Crockett Club demanded protection of the local Roosevelt elk population. Hunting and habitat loss had reduced the elk's numbers from an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 animals in the 1850s to 2,000 or fewer in 1905. The slaughter of elk for their upper canine teeth, which enjoyed a turn-of-the-century vogue as watch fobs for members of the Elks Lodge, garnered particular notoriety. Congressman Francis W. Cushman (1867-1909) of Tacoma introduced a bill for an "Elk National Park" that would enforce protections for wildlife and timber alike in 1904, but his bill was scuttled after Congressman William E. Humphrey (1862-1934) of Seattle introduced competing legislation for a game preserve that would permit the continued extraction of timber. Humphrey and Pinchot later persuaded President Roosevelt, the elk's namesake, to intervene on the animal's behalf.
On March 2, 1909, Roosevelt used the presidential powers authorized by the Antiquities Act of 1906 to set aside 610,560 acres of Olympic National Forest as Mount Olympus National Monument. Following the Secretary of the Interior's determination that no "prospecting for or working of mineral deposits" (Lien, 39) was allowed within monument boundaries, business groups such as the Olympic Peninsula Development League and the Seattle Commercial Club agitated for its elimination. The Seattle Daily Times asserted that "the Olympic Mountains ought to be thrown open to the prospector and the miner, for the rugged men who follow those occupations are always the forerunners of substantial growth" (Seattle Daily Times, 6), while F. H. Stanard, a Seattle business representative, laid into "Pretorius Pinchot at the tennis court of Theodore the First" for making "a Siberian wilderness of the West" (Report of Proceedings, 66).
In 1915, at the urging of advocates within the Forest Service, President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) signed an order more than halving the size of Mount Olympus National Monument and restoring the most heavily timbered lands to Olympic National Forest. Continued attempts by Washington congressional representatives to gain support for a national park or game refuge failed, and the newly founded National Park Service, established in 1916, declared itself officially uninterested in the region. Inquiries on behalf of an Olympic National Park would eventually elicit a form-letter response from the Park Service: "It is a very beautiful region, but thus far it has not been demonstrated that it comes up to the standards set for national parks" (Lien, 105).
Despite the controversy that attended Roosevelt's 1909 designation, the Forest Service came to treat the distinction between Mount Olympus National Monument and Olympic National Forest as essentially nominal. Permits were issued for mining and for the grazing of 1,600 sheep on Roosevelt elk range near the Lost River. Tellingly, a 1923 forest management plan ignored the national monument boundary entirely, prescribing timber harvests throughout the region. Timber extraction accelerated under this approach, characterized as the "gospel of continuous production" (Twight, 43) by District Forester C. M. Granger. By the late 1920s, according to the Forest Service, Grays Harbor County alone was producing "over a billion feet of lumber per year" (Forest Service, 6).
In the late 1920s, political pressure from conservation advocates and sportsmen's organizations led the Forest Service to produce the Olympic National Forest Recreation Plan, prepared by forest engineer Fred W. Cleator. The "Cleator Plan" dedicated fifteen units of Olympic National Forest to partial recreational use and redesignated Mount Olympus National Monument as the "Snow Peaks Recreation Area" while maintaining timber harvests in heavily wooded areas. The Forest Service implemented another Cleator proposal in 1930 by proclaiming a 134,240-acre Olympic Primitive Area. While this land was ostensibly set aside from development, resource extraction within the Primitive Area and the recreational units remained a matter of administrative discretion: Any merchantable timber within these boundaries would still be targeted for cutting. In this way, the Forest Service publicly accommodated growing constituencies for preservation and recreation without compromising the timber yield that was its core directive.
Olympic Forests for a National Park
In 1928 Willard Van Name (1872-1959), a zoologist at the American Museum of Natural History, called attention to conditions in the Olympic forests and other western woodlands in his book Vanishing Forest Reserves. The book depicted a Forest Service that was hostage to timber corporations, logging ancient forests with "little or no return to the federal treasury" (Bainbridge, 145). To protect the Olympic woodlands, Van Name proposed a national park that would contain "fine forest of kinds not at all well represented in any of the present parks" (Lien, 106).
Prospects for a park were reinvigorated in 1933 when newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) issued Executive Order 6166, transferring authority over all national monuments, including Mount Olympus National Monument, to the Park Service. The political wind was turning; timber and mining interests' influence had waned in the onset of the Great Depression, and the Forest Service's management of the elk was under renewed criticism for alleged mismanagement of an open season in October 1933. An attempt by the chief forester to reverse the transfer of Mount Olympus National Monument was publicly rejected by Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes (1874-1952) the following March.
The Emergency Conservation Committee capitalized on this moment in May 1934 with a new pamphlet by Willard Van Name, The Proposed Olympic National Park, that demanded a park to protect elk and old growth alike. Led by Rosalie Barrow Edge (1877-1962), a former suffragist and "blistering stump speaker" (Taylor, 1948), the committee was a small New York City-based pamphleteering operation that commanded a mailing list of some 16,000. Though infamous for publishing aggressive appeals that "named names in unrestrained assaults on the integrity of its opponents" (Bainbridge, 20), Edge's group nevertheless enjoyed a strong influence within the executive branch. Ickes and Roosevelt both came to trust Emergency Conservation Committee member Irving Brant (1885-1976), a journalist who authored such pamphlets as The Olympic Forests for a National Park (1938), as a close advisor on environmental matters. Together, Edge, Van Name, and Brant formed the vanguard of the public campaign to establish Olympic National Park.
Unsettled by the Emergency Conservation Committee pamphlet and by the Park Service's success in quietly generating pro-park sentiment on the Peninsula, the Forest Service's Region Six office in Portland mounted a rearguard defense. Intelligence on Edge's board members and finances was collected with the help of timber industry contacts. Forest Service officials addressed chambers of commerce throughout the Olympic region, reminding them of the Peninsula's economic dependence on lumber. In the words of Regional Forester C. J. Buck, the timber proposed for a park "would mean year-long employment for 600 men in the woods and 600 more family men working in five mills with 120 thousand per day cut, 200 days a year. A total community of 1,200 families from now until Gabriel blows his horn" (Twight, 62).
In April 1935, Congressman Monrad C. Wallgren introduced a bill, H.R. 7086, proposing a Mount Olympus National Park of 728,360 acres. Based on recommendations by Van Name and backed by Ickes, the boundaries proposed in the Wallgren bill contained substantial stands of old-growth timber in the western Olympics. H.R. 7086 was met with considerable local opposition: Mountaineers co-founder Asahel Curtis, longtime Olympic ranger Chris Morgenroth, Quileute leader William Penn, Congressman Martin F. Smith, the Washington Conservation Department, the State Fire Fighting Association, and the University of Washington College of Forestry were among those who argued against the proposed park.
In April 1936 the House Committee on Public Lands commenced a nine-day hearing on the Wallgren bill, during which delegates of the Forest Service, the Park Service, local business groups, and other constituencies testified at length. (Notably absent was testimony from any Native American stakeholders.) "This forest has been administered by the Forest Service since 1905," said Assistant Chief Forester Leon F. Kneipp, "not without error ... but, as that Olympic Forest stands today it is beautiful and it is protected" (Mount Olympus National Park, 198). Secretary Ickes, earning his reputation as a "professional man of wrath" (Mackintosh, 78), denounced the Forest Service as a lackey to corporate interests "that see no wrong in destroying a national treasure so long as a profit may be taken" (Mount Olympus National Park, 253).
H.R. 7086 was reported for enactment by the full House of Representatives, but stalled in a dispute over the size and shape of the park. Wallgren reintroduced his bill as H.R. 4724 in February 1937 with a 138,000-acre reduction in the proposed boundaries containing Olympic's rich west-side forests, prompting the Emergency Conservation Committee to issue a pamphlet titled Double-Crossing the Project for the Proposed Mount Olympus National Park. Though opposition by the Forest Service and its allies remained undiminished, the bill approached a floor vote as local Park Service staff and environmental groups embraced H.R. 4724 as a realistic path to a park.
Here President Roosevelt intervened, obliging the Olympic Peninsula with a personal visit in September 1937. Roosevelt's party landed in Port Angeles, where the gathered crowds included a group of 3,000 schoolchildren alongside a sign (raised by park advocates) that read, "Please, Mr. President, we children need your help. Give us an Olympic National Park" (Freidel, 127). Armed with a private memorandum from Irving Brant warning that Olympic "won't be a real park unless it takes in the areas the Forest Service is trying to keep out" (Lien, 170), the president was well-equipped to parry the arguments of the Forest Service personnel who accompanied him on his tour from Lake Crescent to Hoquiam. Roosevelt declared that the Olympic Peninsula "will in the future be as popular as Yellowstone is now" and "left no doubt in the mind of any one present that he favored a large national park" (Fringer, 73-74).
The President's favor carried the day. On June 29, 1938, following personal negotiations with state and Forest Service officials over the park boundaries, President Roosevelt signed H.R. 10024, the third and final Wallgren bill. This legislation abolished Mount Olympus National Monument, established an Olympic National Park of 634,000 acres, and authorized the future addition of more than 250,000 acres at the president's discretion. "Conceived in controversy, born of compromise, and developed amidst constant conflict" (Master Plan, 1), Olympic thus became the nation's newest national park.
Administering the Park
Planning for the new park was carried out in the summer of 1938 by a committee consisting of Ickes, Brant, Mount Rainier superintendent Owen A. Tomlinson, and other Park Service personnel. Preston P. Macy (1891-1979), custodian of Mount Olympus National Monument since 1934, would continue as the first park superintendent. Among Macy's early priorities were improving trails, overseeing construction of park headquarters in Port Angeles, and halting the development of a high-speed road through the Hoh River valley. In 1941, the new park attracted a record 92,667 visitors.
To the disquiet of state and local officials who believed the president would afford them equal say in any boundary changes, Roosevelt went on to proclaim additions in 1940 and 1943 that enlarged Olympic by 208,011 acres, mostly representing the long-contested western rainforests. A 1953 proclamation by President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) added another 47,753 acres to the park, including the Queets and Bogachiel valleys and the Coastal Strip. Though Macy and the Park Service would repeatedly attempt to add the adjacent Ozette Indian Reservation as well, in 1970 the Makah won lasting federal recognition of their ancestral claim to the land.
American engagement in World War II instigated a new battle over Olympic timber in the early 1940s. William B. Greeley (1879-1955), a timber executive and former head of the Forest Service, pushed the War Production Board to seek cutting of Sitka spruce within the park's west-side forests. Said Greeley, "The Olympic Peninsula National Park should do its part towards victory by giving up certain of its fine grade, old growth timber to the war effort ... Nothing is too sacred to do its share" (Lien, 213). In 1942 the Park Service acquiesced to logging on Queets Corridor land not yet incorporated into the park boundary. Though the political pressure dissipated in 1943 when it became clear that airplane-grade lumber could be readily obtained from other sources, industry was undeterred in its pursuit of access to Olympic timber.
In 1946 and 1947, following Roosevelt's death and Ickes's resignation, Senator Warren G. Magnuson and Representative Henry M. Jackson introduced bills to eliminate tens of thousands of acres from the park's western border. This effort had the backing of Park Service personnel, including Macy and Director Newton B. Drury (1889-1978). Conservationists, alarmed by the Park Service's disinclination to defend its own boundaries, mustered an energetic response. Wrote Ickes, now a syndicated columnist, "The tree butchers, axes on shoulders, are again on the march against some of the few remaining stands of America's glorious virgin timber" (Lien, 242). Rosalie Barrow Edge mobilized another letter-writing campaign with her 1947 pamphlet The Raid on the Nation's Olympic Forests, which enjoyed the widest distribution of all Emergency Conservation Committee publications yet. In the public outcry that ensued, the bills were dropped.
Former forest engineer Fred Overly (1907-1973), who succeeded Macy as Olympic superintendent in 1951, continued to seek accommodation for industry by expanding a timber salvage program initiated in the 1940s. Under Overly, timber companies secured contracts permitting the removal of an estimated 65 million board feet of lumber from the national park, including healthy trees. The resulting controversy led to Overly's removal in 1958. Overly's tenure also saw the rise of a new generation of conservation activists, including Polly Dyer and the Olympic Park Associates, who fought the salvage policy and recruited Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to the area for demonstrations in 1958 and 1964 against coastal road projects.
Passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and later legislation such as the National Environmental Policy Act (1969) and the Endangered Species Act (1973) heralded a new federal approach to natural resource management. Under the superintendency of biologist Roger W. Allin and his successors in the 1970s and 1980s, Olympic's purpose was redefined as preservation of "the mountain wilderness phenomenon" (Master Plan, 68). Scientists' expanded influence over park policy led administrators to cease stocking backcountry lakes with fish and to devise plans for the removal of exotic species, such as a population of mountain goats introduced in the 1920s. In 1988, the Washington Park Wilderness Act designated 876,669 acres, or around 95 percent of the park, as the Olympic Wilderness, later renamed the Daniel J. Evans Wilderness after the former Washington governor and senator.
The indigenous people of the Peninsula have maintained an active and continuous relationship to their traditional lands within Olympic National Park since its founding. At times this has resulted in conflict, as in the Park Service's efforts to acquire the Ozette Reservation, or in the case of two Quinault men arrested for hunting elk in the Queets Corridor in 1982. In recent decades, the park has partnered with tribes on projects ranging from a coastal oil spill response with the Makah in 1991 to the Lower Elwha Klallam's movement to restore the Elwha River watershed. A Memorandum of Understanding was approved by the Park Service and eight neighboring tribes in 2008, establishing regular meetings and requiring "meaningful tribal consultation" in the administration of natural and cultural resources (Wray, 66).
Olympic ranks among the most celebrated and popular American national parks, having won global recognition as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site and, since 1990, averaging more than 3 million visitors per year. Recent initiatives have included the successful reintroduction of fishers (2008-2010), the demolition of the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams (2011-2014), and the implementation of a long-gestating plan to remove the mountain goats (2018). Of growing concern in the twenty-first century is the effect of anthropogenic climate change on the Olympic landscape. Scientists have estimated a reduction of 34 percent in glacial surface area across the Olympic Range from 1980 to 2009, with full loss of 82 glaciers. A 2011 climate adaptation report, prepared jointly by the Park Service and Forest Service, projected climate impacts that include wildlife habitat disruption, potential closure of vulnerable fisheries, and increased exposure to drought, fires, and floods. Olympic National Park's future thus promises threats no less grave than those the park withstood through its embattled early history.