[ MANY MILES AWAY ]
Discovering the Olympic Rain Forest
Late last June, we drove south from Seattle, then
north, circumnavigating Puget Sound. Through
occasional showers, we caught glimpses of our
destination, the jagged Olympics, clothed in forest
and shrouded in mist. After a couple of hours, we
crossed the bridge over the Hood Canal onto the
Olympic Peninsula. This arm of land, surrounded
by Pacific waters on three sides, forms the northwestern corner of the contiguous United States.
Some of the most biodiverse forests on earth
are protected within vast Olympic National Park,
which encompasses about half the peninsula.
Soon we began seeing large clearcuts on the
state and private timberlands outside the park. All
trees had been stripped down to bare soil, even
on steep slopes. Later we passed land that had
been replanted to Douglas fir. All of this is common practice in the western US.
We headed toward the small town of Forks,
Washington, where we had rented a cabin. Forks,
which once called itself the timber capital of the
world, hosts a timber museum with a chainsaw
sculpture of two loggers outside, manning a
crosscut saw. Now that most of the big trees out-
side the park have been cut, and timber harvests
from the national forest have been reduced to
protect endangered species, the town is relying
more on tourism dollars.
The next day we drove up a narrow spur road
to visit the Hoh Rain Forest, part of a temperate
rain forest that’s found in only a few regions of the
world. It was crowded, considering it was another
chilly, rainy day, and we had to park in the overflow
parking area. This turned out to be a stroke of luck,
as a small herd of Roosevelt elk were browsing
in the forest nearby. We watched from beneath
umbrellas as eight elk, including a bull with a big
rack, chomped on ferns and shrubs. Their browsing keeps the understory open and encourages
herbaceous ground cover. By the late 1800s, this
subspecies of elk unique to the Olympic Peninsula
was almost extinct due to overhunting. After a
trip to the area, President Theodore Roosevelt
created a national monument in 1909 to protect
the elk, building on forest reserves that President
Cleveland had set aside in the late nineteenth century. In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt signed
the act that created the National Park.
Top: A forest near Hoh River. Middle: Hiking amidst towering trees, mostly Sitka spruces. Bottom: Sword fern.