Road work

Posted by Ken Campbell May 9, 2009 1 Comment 731 views

At the moment, there are several significant ghost roads that lead into Olympic National Park. When I say “ghost roads,” what I’m talking about are the many miles of roadway that were once open to vehicles, that have since been closed as a result of slides, washouts and other rain-related injuries. Two of the most critical access roads on the west side of the park are scheduled to have work begin in mid-July, and although it will not affect vehicle access much this season, it surely will once the work is completed in October.

The Graves Creek Road, along with the South Shore Road nearby, was damaged in a storm in 2007. At eight different places along its 6-mile length, portions of the road have been washed away by the raging floodwaters of the Quinault, making it impassable for vehicles, but still open to pedestrian, bicycle and stock use. A large campground and a ranger station were stranded in what is now the backcountry of the Graves Creek area, and it now takes an additional six miles of hiking to get to the Enchanted Valley trailhead. The South Shore Road was closed by similar damage, resulting in the Quinault lakeshore loop being out of commission for the past two years.

Once they’re open again, however, everything changes. Winter traffic will be light, but come next spring, when the snow is melting and the days are getting longer, the people will arrive. The 36-foot road warriors with names like Mountain Aire and Allegro, Bounder and Southwind, these will return once more to their assigned places along the river. Large bonfires will again be built and much alcohol will be consumed. Groups of surly teens, hauled into the woods by their misguided parents, will hang out near the restrooms once more, snarling softly and avoiding eye contact. The sound of idling diesel engines will mix delightfully with the river noises, creating a form of mountain music that hasn’t been heard around these parts for years. Ah, wilderness.

On the other side of the Olympic range, the Dosewallips road is still closed to cars. Similar circumstances to those at Graves Creek shut this one down back in January of 2002, and it has lesser washouts and rockfall damage at several points along the way. What really closed the road, however, was a shift in the river that carved out the side of a hill, scouring away a section of roadway the length of a football field. These days, you drive to where the road ends in a dirt berm, climb up and over the washout via a bypass trail, and come out the other side of the washout on the same road once again. A mile or so along, the Elkhorn Campground, where the internal engine once roamed in packs, is empty and piled with river debris. At the original end of the road, the Dosewallips Campground is the same, a beautiful flat section of riverfront with meadows and shade trees growing tall along the banks, quiet except for the voices of the few campers who have made the trip under their own power.

I am in favor of access, but here’s how I see it: If the roads were to stay closed, it would just make the wilderness that much closer. Instead of having to drive ten or fifteen miles into the heart of the mountains to find the wild areas that we all say we cherish, those wild places would effectively move farther out from where they now sit, move closer to us. And the really great part of it is that we don’t have to do anything, just let nature take its course.

There are those who see it differently though, and their point of view carries more weight than mine. The road to the Dosewallips trailhead is also slated to be reopened, just like Graves Creek. The ghost roads will become regular roads again, normal, everyday, ordinary roads. The line of thought, as far as I can tell, is that the notion of access implies access for all your stuff too, and that even automobiles need wilderness.

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