Statement | Washington, DC | December 16, 2016

Court Rules in Favor of Retaining Historic Structures in Olympic National Park

Decision is a victory for historic structures in wilderness areas across the country

The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington has dismissed a lawsuit against the National Park Service (NPS), thus asserting the NPS’ authority to maintain the historic structures in the Olympic Wilderness, which comprises the vast majority of Olympic National Park. The following are statements by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and the Friends of Olympic National Park which intervened in the lawsuit in support of the National Park Service:

“We applaud the Court for ruling that the designation of wilderness need not result in the erasure of cultural resources within that landscape,” said Brian Turner, senior field officer and attorney for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We believe that Olympic National Park’s historic cabins, trail shelters, and other rustic structures are an enhancement, not a detriment to experiencing the land’s natural beauty and share the court’s opinion that the Wilderness Act and the National Historic Preservation Act can be used in concert to ensure that Olympic’s heritage is intact for future generations of Park users.”

“The court’s ruling has far-reaching implications,” noted Chris Moore, executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. “It enables the National Park Service and other federal agencies that manage America’s wilderness to meet their stewardship mission related to historic and cultural resources in a manner that complies with the Wilderness Act. Washingtonians understand that the historic structures in our backcountry areas complement the Wilderness experience.”

“The decision is a fitting tribute to former Washington Senator Daniel J. Evans,” said Rod Farlee, vice-president of the Friends of Olympic National Park. “Senator Evans was instrumental to the passage of legislation creating the Olympic Wilderness and supported the preservation of its backcountry structures.” On December 9 Congress passed a law renaming the wilderness in honor Senator Evans, which President Obama is expected to sign into law.

The coalition of preservation groups is grateful to our pro bono legal representation by Elaine L. Spencer and David O. Bechtold of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP for their excellent work on behalf of the local, state, and national preservation interests.

About the Historic Structures of Olympic National Park

The precious few cabins, trail shelters and other rustic structures that remain within the Olympic Wilderness provide an unobtrusive complement to the park’s natural beauty. They enrich visitors’ experience and provide a safe spot for backpackers of all ages to seek shelter during a storm, or to gaze upon the park’s stunning beauty. These structures also serve as a tangible link to the early history of the park, and the distinctive craftsmanship of that era. Only 18 of the original 90 shelters in Olympic Wilderness remain today. They are all eligible for or listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

About the Lawsuit

Montana-based Wilderness Watch sued the National Park Service, seeking the court-ordered removal of four trail shelters and a cabin from the park’s wilderness areas. But the preservation groups supporting NPS believe Olympic’s historic structures can be managed in accordance with both the National Historic Preservation Act and the Wilderness Act. The preservation groups were represented pro bono by Elaine L. Spencer and David O. Bechtold of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP.

About the Specific Structures at Risk

  • Canyon Creek Shelter constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939 overlooking Sol Duc Falls. This is a T-shaped, one-story log building with a wood-shaked, cross-gabled roof set on a concrete foundation. This shelter is the only CCC-built shelter remaining in the Park of three built. It was listed on the National Register in April 2007 for its architectural significance and association with the CCC.
  • Elk Lake Shelter, 15 trail miles up the Hoh River, is a three-sided 14’ x 14’ log shelter with open front. Shelters at Elk Lake have offered refuge to climbers approaching Mt. Olympus since 1927. This shelter, a replacement built in 1963, represents the last variation of shelter design in the Park.
  • Wilder Shelter, 21 trail miles up the Elwha River, is a 12’ x 12’ three-sided solid log structure built in 1951 to accommodate backcountry visitors. It was listed on the National Register in 2008.
  • Botten Cabin, near Wilder, is an 11’ x 17’ log cabin with gabled roof built in 1928 featuring fine, hand-crafted, dovetail-notched corners. The cabin is actively used as an emergency shelter. It was listed on the National Register in April of 2007 for its architectural significance and association with recreational history in the park.
  • Bear Camp Shelter is a three-sided solid log structure 12’x16’ deep built in 1952. It is 16 trail miles up the Dosewallips River.

About the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation

The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation is a statewide, nonprofit advocacy organization that works to save Places That Matter across Washington State. PreserveWA.org.

About the Friends of Olympic National Park

Formed in 2001 with the mission of supporting Olympic National Park in preserving the Park's natural, cultural and recreational resources for the benefit of present and future generations. FriendsONP.org

Media Contacts:

  • Erica Stewart, Public Affairs, National Trust for Historic Preservation; 202-207-6795, Email: Estewart@Savingplaces.Org
  • Chris Moore, Executive Director, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation; 206-624-9449, Email: Cmoore@Preservewa.Org
  • Rod Farlee, Vice-President, Friends of Olympic National Park; 360-681-4518, Email: Rodfarlee@Olypen.Com

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.
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