Thursday, January 31, 2013

Please find following my comments with regard to the Olympic National Park Wilderness Stewardship Plan.
            The National Park Service’s website points out in recounting the origins of the National Park System that when Yosemite Valley was first set aside it was “for public use, resort, and recreation”.  The Federal laws establishing the National Park System mandates that they be “dedicated and set apart … as public pleasuring grounds”.  A balancing of use by people and preservation is mandated: to emphasize either to the exclusion of the other would run contrary to the basic principles underlying the National Park System.
            1.  I live with my family about a mile from the Olympic National Park boundary.  Olympic National Park was the major reason why we moved here 10 years ago.  Its great natural beauty, diversity of scenery and environments (mountains, rain forest, and shoreline), and the accessibility of all of that to us, are what makes this area special to us.
            2.  We mainly use Olympic National Park for hiking, snowshoeing and snow boarding (on Hurricane Ridge).  We have been on pack trips with horses or mules in other National Parks, and think that is an activity both appropriate and worth preserving.
            3.  I believe the main issues in Olympic National Park are preserving and improving public access.  The Park seems to be doing a good job with preservation.  However, with limited budgets maintenance of, and repairs to, roads, trails, shelters and other visitor facilities have sometimes taken longer than ideal or not occurred at all.  Until the Park can adequately maintain and preserve access to the area it already has it should not look to acquiring additional land.
4.  20 years from now I would ideally like to see in Olympic National Park:
-  well maintained access roads, open year round;
-  a full range of snow related activities on Hurricane Ridge in the winter, with advance certainty of being open and sufficient availability of cleared parking for all;
-  a well maintained and expanded dirt trail network with safe bridges where necessary;
-  additional access points into the Park for hikers at various points around the Park’s perimeter;
-  a Park culture that is friendly to those who want to use the Park for hiking, overnight camping, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, downhill skiing and snowboarding (on Hurricane Ridge), or horse packing trips (this includes availability of camp sites and reasonable and not overly restrictive rules as to campfires and waste management); and
-  an expanded ranger led hike program.
I have found in other first tier National Parks I have visited that half day or full day ranger led hikes into the backcountry are a great way to allow first time visitors to safely and responsibly explore the areas of the Park more than a mile or two away from the visitor centers.  In more than one instance have those half day or full day ranger led hikes led to my returning with my family to the Park for a full week or more of hiking and other activities, where otherwise I would never have realized what the interior areas of the Park have to offer. 
5.                  I believe that the balance between use and preservation in Olympic National Park already has been tilted somewhat too much away from use and in favor of preservation.  We have to be cautious that the Wilderness Stewardship Plan does not increase that imbalance by further, directly or indirectly, decreasing or hindering public access to the Park.
First, this would be contrary to Federal law.
Second, policies that could limit visitation would be bad public policy from the National Park Service’s perspective, in that its continued existence and public funding depend on public support.  If a new generation were to grow up without an appreciation from frequent personal use of what a unique national treasure our National Park system is, in a generation or two the public support that makes possible the National Park Service’s preservation mission would whither away.
And finally, Olympic National Park is extremely important to the economic wellbeing of the surrounding communities, which in many respects is closely tied to Park visitation.  The National Park Service philosophy of civic engagement requires this important fact to be taken into consideration when balancing use and preservation.
Thank you for your consideration.
                                                                                    Kaj Ahlburg

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