My time at Olympic National Park this August with Partners in the Park changed my direction. Throughout my time on the Olympic Peninsula with twelve other students, I learned a lot about this very special park and the people that spend their lives preserving and protecting its beauty and resources. This particular Partners in the Parks program was mobile, since Olympic offers so much variety. None of the students had ever been the Pacific Northwest before this trip, so we had a lot to learn about the park from our interactions with scientists, anthropologists, a poet, park directors, and fishery experts. Our group leaders were three amazing Honors Program advisors from the University of Washington. I was completely enamored by the landscape and variety of the park itself, but my favorite aspect of the program was the opportunity to meet great people from all over the country. From the very beginning, it was clear that a common thread bound our group together, despite our different backgrounds.
Olympic is a very unique place, because it includes many different ecosystems in a small area. We started off our trip in Seattle, and took a ferry ride to the Olympic Peninsula. We spent our first day learning about the park from Dr. Jerry Frielich, the Research Director for Olympic National Park, along the shore of Lake Crescent. Jerry started off our trip with enthusiasm and a plethora of knowledge about the park system and ONP itself. We went on a short hike on the first day to start off a wonderful week of day hikes and trips around the park.
In the next few days, we explored the Hoh Rainforest, a temperate rainforest in the heart of Olympic. This was my first experience in a temperate rainforest, and I was surprised to see the differences between temperate and tropical rainforests. We were able to raft on the Hoh River during one morning, and learned about the fisheries in Olympic from a fisheries biologist that works for the park. We also learned about fisheries during the next couple of days when we explored the Pacific coast and the Elwha River. This particular river was dammed for 99 years, blocking the passage of fish, namely salmon, up the river to spawn. The Elwha is slowly being undammed after years of aggressive lobbying by local Native American tribe leaders, fishery experts, park employees, and environmentalists. It was awesome to see the Elwha slowly but surely come back to life, and we learned that the first salmon had hatched in the upper Elwha during the past year after 99 years.
We spent our final days in the high country of Olympic, hiking as a group and learning more about the park with Jerry and other park employees. This was undoubtedly my favorite area of the park; my heart is in the mountains. We had the chance to reflect as a group on our trip while in the mountains, because we were able to see all of the diverse areas of the park that we had visited during the week. We also had many discussions as a group around the campfire on the final days. Since we were from all over the country and had different majors, it was interesting to hear different opinions on our essential question of the week: what is wilderness? As I am a Nursing major going into my senior year, one might think that I wouldn’t have much experience in wilderness. In fact, I have been very lucky to grow up visiting many national parks and other wilderness areas. Despite my experience in the outdoors, I found that my concept of “wilderness” evolved quite a bit throughout my time at Olympic. I learned so much from our group leaders, other students on the trip, our partners, and from the park itself.
My time in Olympic National Park convinced me of my commitment to the natural world, despite my indoor career choice. I am overwhelmingly happy, excited, and grateful to have had the opportunity to visit such an amazing park with an outstanding program. I feel very lucky to have the Honors Program by my side throughout my time at Northeastern, and to have opportunities like Partners in the Parks to push me to explore different horizons with passionate and exciting people.
Caroline Smith, Nursing