Shifting river undercuts Enchanted Valley Chalet, future in doubt

Staff reportMarch 23, 2014 

The East Fork Quinault River channel has undercut the Enchanted Valley Chalet by 4 feet, according to Olympic National Park officials.

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

The shifting channel of the East Fork Quinault River has, as of last week, undercut the Enchanted Valley Chalet by about 4 feet, leaving its fate in doubt.

An Olympic National Park crew was at the remote cabin last week 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.

Storms this winter and high river flows have resulted in the river’s main channel to shift by at least 15 feet in the past three months. Back in mid-January, the river was a few feet from the structure, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

A number of factors are working against any attempts to save the structure.

“There is no feasible option available that would provide long term preservation of the chalet in Enchanted Valley,” said park spokeswoman Barb Maynes.

The chalet is 13 miles from the Graves Creek trailhead in the Quinault Valley. It was built by Quinault Valley residents in the early 1930s, prior to establishment of the park. It served as a lodge for hikers and horse riders in Enchanted Valley. More recently, the chalet has been used as a backcountry ranger station and emergency shelter for hikers.

Enchanted Valley is within the Olympic Wilderness, designated in 1988 and is a popular wilderness destination.

Meanwhile, park managers are still considering their options.

“Within what is technically and economically feasible, we continue to do our very best to protect the area’s natural and cultural resources and its wilderness character,” superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said in a statement. “Our options are limited, however, given the size and force of the river and the valley’s remote location within the Olympic Wilderness.”

Park staff continues to work closely with partners to develop the best course of action, both in the long and short term, according to a park news release. Key partners include the Washington State Historic Preservation Office, Pacific West Regional Office of the National Park Service and concerned organizations and citizens.

“We continue to work with the ( State Historic Preservation Officer) and others to make sure we are taking all the steps necessary for the long term to document and preserve the memory and, within feasibility, some of the historic fabric,” Maynes said.

Movement of the East Fork Quinault channel is common particularly in the wide, flat expanse of Enchanted Valley. Storms, fallen trees, rockslides and erosion all can cause the river to shift and carve a new channel, according to a park news release.

The river threatened the chalet in 2005, coming within 10 feet of the structure.

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