Olympic National Park

Center for the State of the Parks: Park Assessments

Published May 2004

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Jagged, glacier-capped mountains, luxuriant forests, and rugged coastline dominate the landscape of Olympic National Park, centered on western Washington's Olympic Peninsula. To protect its wild qualities, Congress designated approximately 95 percent of the park's 922,651 acres as wilderness in 1988. The park is divided into two units - most of the acreage encompasses the Olympic Mountains and old-growth forests of the interior of the peninsula, but a narrow band of parkland lies along the coast, separated from the rest of the park by state, private, and Forest Service land. This strip of Pacific coastline-about 65 miles long-is one of the largest stretches of protected wilderness coast in the contiguous United States and provides protection for flocks of sea birds and myriad marine organisms.

Olympic National Park preserves the largest intact block of temperate rainforest and old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest and is home to the federally threatened northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) and marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus), as well as at least 23 endemic plant and animal species found nowhere but the Olympic Peninsula. The park's rivers and streams support eight species of anadromous fish (fish that migrate from the ocean to inland freshwater to spawn), including five species of Pacific salmon and the bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), a federally listed threatened species.

In addition to an impressive array of natural resources, the park contains hundreds of historic structures and more than 600 identified archaeological sites that help tell the story of the region's 12,000 years of human habitation. Landscapes saturated with history and cultures, as well as nearly half a million museum objects such as prehistoric baskets and tools, illustrate the region's past. The presence and involvement of eight local American Indian tribes adds depth to the park's cultural and historical story.

Even though the animals, plants, waters, and cultural treasures within Olympic National Park have federal protection, they are not immune to threats including incompatible adjacent land uses, declining salmon and spotted owl populations, invasive species, habitat degradation, poaching, management conflicts, and limited funds for resource protection. In 2003, Olympic National Park had a budget of $10.29 million, but unfunded operating needs totaled nearly $6.1 million.

Insufficient funding results in failure to achieve some of the park's primary goals, difficulty meeting mandated legislation and regulations, and increased reliance on special project funding to pay for daily operations. A lack of funds also means the park cannot hire the staff needed to properly care for its resources and interpret those resources for visitors. Recently, the park announced cuts in important visitor services. Some visitor centers may close or have reduced hours, there may be some main road closures, and few seasonal interpreters will be hired.


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