What's Happening at Olympic National Park
Sula Jacobs, ONP Superintendent
Superintendent Sula Jacobs spoke at the monthly Chamber Luncheon on May 10th, and of course the biggest topic on everyone’s minds was the fire that burned down the lodge at Hurricane Ridge. Before delving into that topic Superintendent Jacobs said that she wanted to share a personal story about her first experience with the Olympic National Park. That story can be found at the bottom of this page. Immediately below is a summary of what Superintendent Jacobs had to say about the fire and the future of Hurricane Ridge.
Superintendent Jacobs said that she wanted everyone to know that she and the rest of the Olympic National Park team fully understood the impact that the destruction of the lodge had on the community, and acknowledged that it was an emotional time for everyone. She praised the Clallam County Fire/Rescue and the City of Port Angeles for their incredible response and support during the emergency. She said that everyone involved did a great job under tough circumstances. Fortunately they were only a month into the remodel project and the fire happened at the very starting stages of new construction. Although the historic building was destroyed, there was minimal loss to new work on the building because it had barely begun. She said that she knew everyone was anxious to hear about the lodge and when the ridge would be open, however, there was very little information to share. New facts are coming in constantly and the situation is changing by the moment. She said it would be a long process of recovery, and each step would determine what would happen with the next, so it was impossible to see beyond the immediate actions that are being taken.
The first step is an investigation into the fire to try and learn what happened. But the site is still an active emergency. Toxic materials are present and the site has to be made safe before a complete investigation can occur. The investigation also has to happen before any kind of cleanup can begin, and they have no way of knowing how long that investigation will take. Aside from investigating the fire, she said that many of the park's important systems were destroyed because they were routed through the lodge, including radios, power, water, and wastewater. They will be unable to fix any of those systems until the investigation is over and the site is made safe enough for work to begin.
After the investigation is over the cleanup will begin. This process will involve determining who will do the cleanup and how that process will occur, and there's no way of knowing how long that will take either. However, she said that they were going to do everything possible to get visitors back on the ridge as soon as possible. She emphasized that they want people to be able to visit Hurricane Ridge. She said that she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support they had received, including from the City of Port Angeles, Representative Kilmer, the Governor, and many people from all over the country.
After her summary of the situation Superintendent Jacobs took questions from the audience.
A question was asked about the size of a future building. The day lodge had been a historic building and could not be expanded, but it was asked whether a larger, expanded facility could be put up at Hurricane Ridge. Superintendent Jacobs said that it was far too early in the process to determine what the facilities would look like if a lodge were to be rebuilt.
A question was asked about the exhibits. Lee Snook, another park employee who accompanied Superintendent Jacobs, said that all of the exhibits were presumed saved. The building had been emptied out for the remodel, and many of them had been distributed to other places to be exhibited. The remaining artifacts were stored up at the ridge in a separate container, so they were all expected to be undamaged by the fire. The large topographical map had already been slated to be given to the Hoh Visitors Center, so it had been removed from the building prior to the fire.
A question was asked about whether there was a chance that the lodge won’t be rebuilt because she had used the word “if” earlier. She said she had to be very precise with her language and was always careful to make if/and/or statements so that it didn’t sound like she was promising anything or stating that something would happen for certain. Too much is just unknown right now.
A question was asked about when Clallam Transit might be able to resume their shuttle up to the ridge, and the possibility of food trucks up at the ridge while there is no lodge. Superintendent Sula said once again it is much too early to have any idea about a timeline for when Hurricane Ridge will reopen to the public, or if and when those kinds of services can begin. It wasn’t up to her but she thought food trucks were a great idea.
Superintendent Jacobs finished by saying that she hoped the fire would not discourage people from visiting the park. The lodge had already been planned to be closed from April until next year so it would not have been available the public during that time anyway, but she wanted to emphasize that there is still a 922,000 National Park, nearly all of which is still available to enjoy. All of the public outreach from the park so far has been about the fire, but the next phase of publicity is to remind people that the ONP is still open and available. They do not want the news of the fire to give people the impression that the park is closed or not worth visiting, or to cancel their plans to travel here. There are still plenty of attractions available. She wanted to make a point to say that she has worked at multiple parks in her career, and that ONP has the absolute best park service team she has ever encountered, and she can't imagine a better group to deal with this situation.
Superintendent Jacobs Discovers the Olympic National Park
Many years ago, Sula Jacobs and her brother decided to take a spontaneous road trip to see the Olympic National Park. They embarked on their trip without any planning, maps, food, or water. She said they basically did everything you’re NOT supposed to do when road-tripping. They could only find one room available because it was so last-minute, and it happened to be at Lake Quinault Lodge. After enjoying the view of the lawn extending down to the lakeside, she went for a hike and was stunned by the beauty of the rainforest. She said that she stood in disbelief as she looked around at the majesty of the old-growth forest. Then, as she and her brother drove toward Port Angeles, she said they came upon the most beautiful lake she had ever seen. She told her brother to pull over immediately at the next turnout so that they could stop and take in the view. As she stood on the shores of Lake Crescent that day, she promised herself that someday she would return. When she got the job as Superintendent of Olympic National Park, she said that her friends and family remarked about how she had always said she would work at the Olympic National Park, and she’d finally made it.