Category: USA.

A playground for all to enjoy

by Mike Marsh
The Daily World
Saturday, September 26, 2009 1:14 AM PDT


JACOB JONES | THE DAILY WORLD Members of the Altair Ski and Sport Club from Eugene, Ore., cross a wooden foot bridge along a trail in the Olympic National Park north of Lake Quinault. The group is visiting the park for their summer trip.

America’s national parks system the focus of new documentary

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived in Port Angeles from Victoria, B.C., on September 30, 1937, he was greeted by a large, enthusiastic crowd, the Aberdeen Daily World reported.

Among the throng was a group of schoolchildren carrying a sign that read, “Mr. Roosevelt, please give us our Olympic national park. We children need your help.”

“That was the appealingist appeal” he had seen in a long time, Roosevelt later told the crowd. “I think you can count on me in getting that park.”

Over the next 24 hours, Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor toured the Olympic Peninsula. They stayed at the Lake Crescent Lodge, where the president and officials discussed the park proposal around a roaring fire; watched a logger top a 175-foot Douglas fir tree in Forks and lunched on trout at the Lake Quinault Inn.

By the end of his tour, which passed through Hoquiam, Aberdeen, Montesano, Elma and McCleary on Oct. 1, Roosevelt announced that he fully supported a national park on the Olympic Peninsula and that he would give careful study to its boundaries. Nine months later, on June 29, 1938, Roosevelt signed legislation and Olympic National Park was born.

Today, more than 3 million people visit Olympic National Park each year. There are hikers, campers and RVers; bicyclists, beachcombers and birdwatchers; climbers, fishermen and more, all eager to take in the park’s majestic beauty and diverse ecosystems, from glacier-covered mountains and dense lowland forests to the rugged Pacific coastline and the lush temperate rainforests.

“Olympic National Park may not have the name recognition that Yellowstone, or Yosemite or Grand Canyon National Park may have, but all you have to do is look around,” said Barb Maynes, the public information officer for the Olympic National Park. “There is such diversity. Visitors come here for the rainforest, but there is so much more.”

On Sunday, all that Olympic National Park and the other 390 national parks around the United States have to offer will be highlighted when “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” a new 12-hour documentary by award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, debuts on PBS television.

And while Maynes, who previewed parts of the film during a special screening, says the “stunning” photography will surely pique the nation’s interest, it’s the stories that will solidify the parks’ importance to the United States.

“Even for people who have been around national parks a long time, there are lots of new and interesting stories that are told in the film,” she said. “It’s those stories that are so important to understanding what national parks mean to this country and its people.”

John Preston, an Olympic National Park ranger in charge of visitor services in the Hoh and Quinault rainforests, couldn’t agree more.

“A lot of people come to Olympic National Park for the creation of stories and memories,” he said. “This park is out of the ordinary and being able to experience that is what they love the most.”

“So much joy”

Preston has his own stories and memories from Olympic National Park.

As a child growing up in Hawaii, his father would pack up the family each summer, fly to Seattle and then head to the park for a long vacation. Preston remembers being amazed by the park’s size and scope, its scenic beauty and the urge it gave him to explore and discover new things.

“The first time I touched snow was on Hurricane Ridge,” he said, “and the view seeded my imagination. I was living life like I used to read in National Geographic.

“It’s funny that I ended up working here,” added Preston, who has been a ranger in Olympic National Park since 1991 and has known some of the park’s elk since they were calves. “I’ve never had so much joy. The Olympic National Park never fails to provide me — every day — a reason why I love it so much.”

Preston says he isn’t the only one with such feelings.

“This park is an integral part of my life and I know a lot of people who are like that,” said Preston, noting that he met his wife in Olympic National Park, honeymooned at Lake Quinault and keeps a detailed record of his favorite spots around the park. “This is a place where you gain appreciation for where you fit into the community of life.”

And while the park’s natural beauty generates feelings of amazement in visitors, it also brings out the best qualities in them, he believes.

“For most people, the park invokes humility,” Preston said. “All of a sudden they feel comfortable and they let their guard down. They can be honest with themselves and they can feel compassion, consideration and wonder. All the things we abandon when we leave our childhood.

“The park is also a tension reliever,” he continued. “It’s easy to relax here and that is so important in this day and age.”

And that alone is a big reason why so many people visit the park each year and why so many of those visitors keep coming back.

Take Peter and Dawn Collins of Portland, for example. This past week the couple was visiting the park for the first time in 14 years with planned stops at the Hoh Rainforest, Sol Duc Hot Springs and Hurricane Ridge. On Tuesday, they enjoyed clear skies and 90-degree weather as they hiked the Maple Glade Rainforest Trail near Lake Quinault.

Asked what they were enjoying most about Olympic National Park, the couple simultaneously drew deep breaths, held the clean air in their lungs for a moment and exhaled.

“The breathing space,” said Peter. “It’s just so relaxing. We both work two jobs and we need this.”

the world over

While Olympic National Park’s grandeur is enough to attract millions of visitors, being recognized on an international level also helps attendance.

In 1976, the park became an International Biosphere Reserve, a program that was started by UNESCO to promote research and education in conservation and sustainability of ecosystems and natural resources. Today, Olympic National Park is one of 553 reserves around the world, and one of only 47 in the United States.

In 1981, UNESCO also named Olympic National Park an international World Heritage Site of cultural and physical significance, joining a list that includes the Pyramids, the Galapagos Islands, and Machu Picchu in Peru. It is one of only 20 such sites in the United States.

“Those designations are a big part of the park,” said Maynes. “It is one of only a few points in the country that is recognized as so important. But Olympic National Park is not just important to the United States. As a World Heritage Site, it is right up there with the Pyramids and the Great Barrier Reef in how it’s perceived on the international stage.”

Preston says he’s met visitors from all over the world and a common question they ask him is where his favorite spot in the park is. His answer is that every visit should include a high-altitude spot such as Hurricane Ridge, as well as the coast and the rain forest.

Preston says he has favorite spots in all three, including the Royal Basin in the Dungeness River watershed, Shi Shi Beach and Toleac Point, which are alive with “ghosts of the past,” and the Enchanted Valley, which he describes as a “magical place” in all seasons.

It seems reasonable that a ranger would suggest visiting all areas of the park, but because Olympic National Park is so accessible, Preston says, it’s easy to visit all of the areas considered highlight attractions.

And most people do.

At the Quinault Ranger Station this past week, members of the Altair Ski & Sports Club of Eugene, Ore., were making their annual visit to a national park. It was the first time that many of them had been to Olympic National Park.

“It’s very different from other parks we’ve been to,” said Helen Martz of Eugene on her way back from the Kestner Homestead near Lake Quinault. “It’s humongous, but we’re seeing a lot and learning a lot about the park’s history.”

Irv Stark and his wife, Sandy, are also seeing a lot. The Burney, Calif., couple are making their way around the Highway 101 loop in their RV and have enjoyed the vistas on Hurricane Ridge, hiked to Sol Duc Falls and made the trek out to Cape Flattery. They’ve also combed the beaches near Kalaloch and La Push.

This is also the Starks’ first visit to Olympic National Park, which has been made even more enjoyable because it was the only national park west of the Rocky Mountains that they hadn’t visited.

So how does it compare to the others?

“Some parks are more pleasing than others,” said Irv, wearing a baseball cap full of pins from other national parks he has visited. “Of all the parks we’ve been to, this is top of the list.

“The whole park is just magnificent,” he added. “It’s just a fabulous place. There is so much to offer and so much variation. It just knocks your hat off.”

Burns Mania

As one might expect, the new Ken Burns documentary is causing lots of excitement around the nation’s national parks.

“I think across the park system, people are looking at the documentary as something that is really exciting and will raise interest in the parks,” said Maynes. “We are expecting a bump in attendance and we’re happy about that.

Irv Stark hopes that the documentary raises more than just interest.

“I hope the film helps to infuse more funds into national parks,” he said. “They are part of our heritage and we owe it to future generations to put money back in.

“This is what we are leaving our children and grandchildren,” he says, pointing to the landscape. “National parks are for them to enjoy, the same way we enjoyed them.”

Preston echoes the sentiment and applauds the work Burns has done to bring national parks back to the forefront of the American psyche.

“I have to say he’s done the National Park Service a great service by bringing to America’s attention just how important these areas are to our culture,” he said.

“You always carry with you a piece of a national park after you visit one,” he added. “People appreciate the uniqueness and the chance to visit a place that’s untarnished and unexploited.”

Mike Marsh, a Daily World writer, can be reached at (360) 537-3952 or by e-mail at

Category: USA
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