To save the Enchanted Valley chalet, Olympic National Park officials are proposing to move the structure 50-100 feet from the bank of the Quinault River. The proposal also calls for dismantling and removing the remaining nonhistoric foundation.
That was the recommendation of an expedited environmental review park staffers completed in the last month. The quick review will allow the park to move forward with the temporary relocation this summer, before autumn rains and high river flows return.
The chalet, a 42-foot-by-28-foot structure, has been undercut 8 feet by the changing channel of the East Fork Quinault River. As a result, the structure is in imminent danger of falling into the river.
After initially deciding not to move the structure, park officials changed course in April after deciding the building collapsing into the river could “adversely impact the streambed, hydrology, water quality, fisheries, other associated natural resources and local wilderness character,” said the assessment.
“We know that temporarily relocating the chalet will not provide long-term protection of either the building or the area’s natural or wilderness resources,” park superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said in a prepared statement. “The goal of this proposed action is to protect the East Fork Quinault River from imminent environmental harm, while providing additional time for more thorough planning and public review about the area’s future.”
Moving the building also would give park staff time to do additional National Environmental Policy Act assessments to determine a final disposition of the building, as well as National Historic Preservation Act analysis on that decision.
The chalet is 13 miles up the East Fork Quinault River from the Graves Creek Trailhead, within the Olympic Wilderness.
According to the plan, the work would take about a week and require a team that would include a professional house mover and four to six skilled laborers. Stock animals and a small helicopter would provide support.
Equipment likely to be used would include a hydraulic power pack pump driven by a small (less than 10 hp) motor, multiple hydraulic crib jacks, steel rails to support the structure, an inert lubricant on which to slide the structure and an assortment of hand tools. Bunch Field, located outside the wilderness area, would be used as the helicopter staging area.
The assessment does not include a no-action alternative because “there is no disagreement that the (National Park Service) should act to keep the chalet from falling into the river,” the document reads. The park also rejected options such as dismantling the building and disposing of the material, moving the structure to a front-country location, do a controlled burn of the building or doing further work in the channel to move the river flow.
“Taking a two-step approach to the evolving situation in Enchanted Valley allows us to address immediate resource protection needs while allowing more time to find a feasible solution that protects park resources into the future,” Creachbaum said.
The chalet was built by valley residents in the early 1930s, before the park was created. It served as a backcountry lodge and more recently, as a wilderness ranger station and emergency shelter. The chalet was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Aerial photos from the 1990s show the river about 400 feet from the chalet. In 2003, the channel began shifting toward the building, and by 2005 the river was within 10 feet of the structure. Park crews did some work to protect the building and in 2006 the channel had moved away.
Last October, however, park staff at the site noted the channel was 9 feet from the northwest corner of the chalet. In early January, photographs and visitor reports showed the East Fork had moved to within 18 inches of the building. The most recent check showed the river has undercut the chalet by 6-8 feet and a small portion of the foundation had fallen into the river.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640