Olympic National Park

The night before I embarked on my weeklong, Partners in the Parks adventure in Olympic National Park I could hardly sleep. I knew I should get as much sleep as I could before having to face whatever sleeping conditions awaited me in the Park, but I was just too excited. I have lived in or visited many different parts of the United States, yet the Pacific Northwest was one region that hadn’t been crossed off my list of places to see.

My excitement had not waned at all by the time we drove off the ferry that shuttled us across Puget Sound. We began to skirt around the northern edge of Olympic National Park through the city of Sequim (pronounced “Squim”) to Port Angeles, where the main Olympic National Park Visitor Center is located. After a brief education on the history and importance of Olympic National Park via the Visitor Center exhibits and then several rounds of photos with the Park sign, we headed off to our first destination, Lake Crescent. As the three guides, twelve other students, and I reached the lakeshore, I had my first “moment” in Olympic National Park. The water could not have been bluer, nor the mountains more perfectly formed to frame the stunning lake. I was entirely assured in that moment that I would find all the beauty I had come to see in Olympic National Park and more on this trip.

Some of my favorite images from the week include the sunlight glancing off the water’s surface as we rafted down the Hoh River; walking along beaches on the Pacific coast through enigmatical, and at times ethereal, morning fog; a simple nuzzle of a fawn to its mother as they stood only a few feet from our campground; the combination of wildflowers and mountain vistas; and watching the sun as it set behind the mountains. I love being able to share pictures like these with friends and family, but the power of these images just isn’t the same when a person has not seen the originals for themselves.

On the morning of our Hurricane Ridge hike, our personal Park guide challenged the group with a very thought-provoking debate question: Should Olympic National Park have an accessible road into and/or through its interior? For the most part, one can only reach the interior of the Park by possessing superior backpacking and off-roading abilities. I was put on the side of the debate arguing against building a road through the practically untouched center of the Park, which meant I was mostly touting the conservation of plants and wildlife and the preservation of true wilderness. However, the other side brought up the issue about the need to do more for those who are not capable of getting into Olympic National Park by means of hiking and off-roading. I jokingly suggested that a postcard would suffice, but given how I felt when standing atop a mountain ridge that we had hiked four miles to get to, that was far from the truth. There’s just something so different about being there and seeing it with one’s own eyes rather than through the lens of a camera.

So what are the people involved in conservation of Olympic National Park to do? Should they follow the example of Yellowstone National Park, which has several roads winding through its interior, or should they keep Olympic National Park the way it is? As a biologist, I strongly favor preserving the Park and its wildlife, but a small part of me wishes that everyone who wanted to had the ability to experience Olympic National Park the way that I did, in all its awe-inspiring glory.

Whatever result the debate comes to, the Olympic National Park is one of those wildernesses that just isn’t found anywhere else on this continent, and it is so worth seeing and experiencing. I’m incredibly grateful to the Northeastern University Honors Program for the chance to learn so much about National Parks and Park Service and to have many memorable “moments” in Olympic National Park.”

Maura Wade, Biology