Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum will host her final information sessions on the park’s Wilderness Plan in Quilcene from 4:30-6:30 p.m. April 3 at the Quilcene Community Center.
This wraps up almost six weeks of workshops designed to give the public a voice into the management of the park’s wilderness spaces. The park hasn’t had a Wilderness Plan in a long time, said Sannie Lustig at an information session at Trinity United Methodist Church on Feb. 7, to get public input for the Olympic National Park’s upcoming wilderness plan.
Lustig, who has worked as a ranger since 1994, monitored one of several white boards for the night, where visitors could propose ideas and improvements they’d like to see in the wilderness plan.
The Q&A was hosted to get community input into the future of ONP’s plan for park wilderness spaces and to introduce Creachbaum, who took over stewardship of ONP in August.
Creachbaum said that there are a lot of issues facing wildernesses in the U.S., such as campsite organization and forest fire plans, but one of the most discussed issues at the sessions were those of access.
“Most people agree that the park needs protection, but disagree on the best way to do that,” she said.
For many, the issue came down to supporting park access and how much is “enough” wilderness. Citizens like Ralph Turner say that the park needs to have sufficient access but also to remain challenging and untamed for diehard hikers.
“I think there should be as much respect for the physically hardy as there is for the physically limited,” said Turner, who has spent time backcountry trekking in Wyoming.
Others, such as Pearl Rains Hewitt, say that park access is too restricted. One such incident was when her son and grandson wanted to go camping in the area, but couldn’t because all the campsites were reserved.
“It’s like saying ‘I’ve got a million rooms where people can stay, but you can only use 40.’” Hewitt also alleges that the National Park Service is systematically acquiring land on the peninsula to force off human development of the area.
Other citizens, like Ann Soule, say that they want the park to be returned to its natural state by reducing trail maintenance and upkeep. She said that wilderness areas inspire and spiritually help people, and that they are an important part of their lives. She believes that “deep down, (people) are comforted by knowing there’s wild areas, and it’s important for us to sustain them.”
Creachbaum said the issue comes down to the different ways people want to enjoy the natural spaces.
“People have different ideas about how they want to use the wilderness and what’s important to them about the wilderness, and that’s all good,” Creachbaum said. “Reasonable people can disagree and that’s what I think is going on here with those two camps.”
While citizens can provide input to the plan, they have to remember that it’s restricted based on the limits of the 1964 Wilderness Act.