Sunday, September 30, 2012

National Public Lands Day...

And our trip to Sol Duc Falls...

Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park.
National Public Lands Day

Saturday, September 29, 2012 was National Public Lands Day. In honor of that day, access to many State and National Parks, as well as other federal lands was free. When I heard about that, I thought it would be a nice "date day" to take Sheila up to Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park. Of course we had fun and enjoyed remembering the other times we'd visited (it took us a while to piece together that we had first visited sometime around 1995, then took relatives there again in 2005, and 2009). This morning, being the geek that I am, I thought about our day trip yesterday and then decided to do a little checking up on what National Public Lands Day was all about and the history of Olympic National Park and the Sol Duc area.  Here's what I found out:

National Public Lands Day (NPLD) is an annual event whose purpose is to educate Americans about the environment, our natural resources, and our responsibilities as stewards of those resources. Participating agencies and organizations plan educational events and volunteer projects to enhance the use of publicly held lands. The first NPLD was in 1994 with three sites and 700 volunteers participating. That initial success created an annual event. Last year, more than 170,000 volunteers worked at 2,067 sites across the United States. According to the NPLD website, here's some of what those volunteers accomplished:

  • Collected an estimated 23,000 pounds of invasive plants
  • Built and maintained an estimated 1,500 miles of trails
  • Planted an estimated 100,000 trees, shrubs and other native plants
  • Removed an estimated 500 tons of trash from trails and other places
  • Contributed an estimated $17 million through volunteer services to improve public lands across the country

Bridge over the Sol Duc River, at the falls.
This year eight federal agencies as well as those at the local, regional, and state level participated, making the NPLD the nation's largest single day volunteer event for public lands. To my chagrin, I did not know any of this when I set out on Saturday morning. Next year, rather than just enjoying a free day in a National Park, I promised myself I would volunteer. 

Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park

If you've never been, go. I think that Olympic National Park is one of the most beautiful places on earth. That's why between bouts of wanderlust, Sheila and I have lived in the Puget Sound three different times in our lives. Olympic National Park is 632,000 acres of preserved wilderness. This park includes alpine meadows, glacier topped mountains, temperate rain forest, and about 63 miles of wild northern coastline.

Sol Duc Hot Springs Hotel, c. 1913. Image courtesy of
the Forks, WA Timber Museum.
Americans came to the Olympic Peninsula beginning in the 1850s, attracted by the natural resources available here, meaning land, lumber, and fish. The first step in protecting the area that would become the National Park was in 1897 when President Grover Cleveland designated portions of the peninsula as the Olympic Forest Reserve. FDR signed the Act that created Olympic National Park in 1938. In 1976 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Olympic part of an international system of Biosphere Reserves. For more in-depth history of the park, check out this pdf from the NPS.

Visitors in the 1920s travel to Sol Duc Hot Springs. Image
courtesy of the Clallam County Historical Society.
The bridge at Sol Duc Falls, c. 1920.
Image from Univ of Washington
Library Special Collections Division,
PH Coll 341.
On the north side of Olympic National Park is the Sol Duc Valley, carved out of the mountains by the Sol Duc River. Along with excellent hiking opportunities, you'll find two attractions at Sol Duc: the Sol Duc Hot Springs and Sol Duc Falls. I don't know who the first European settler was to see Sol Duc Falls. However, in the very early twentieth century, large tracts of timber were purchased around what would later become  national park and national forest land. On of these "timber barons " Michael Earles, built a grand hotel at the sight of a natural mineral hot spring on the Sol Duc river. The hotel opened on May 15, 1912 and one of the obvious attractions for city folk coming to take a mineral bath was the waterfalls a short 2 to 3 mile hike up the river. Visitors have been making their way to view the falls ever since. Unfortunately, the hotel was short-lived, burning down in an accidental fire in 1916. But the reputation of the hot springs and waterfalls had already gotten out. The National Park Service eventually purchase the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort in 1966 and made it park of the park. The trail up to the falls is an easy hike of only eight tenths of a mile. The falls are beautiful year-round, but come in the spring and early summer when the rain and snow melt make for a magnificent experience. You'll know why Native American people, the Quileute, named this river valley "Sol Duc," which means sparkling waters.

These historic images, and others, can be viewed at the Olympic Peninsula Community Museum online.

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