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Mount Olympus National Monument (now Olympic National Park), Washington

(NPS Photo) A visitor takes in the mountain scenery at Olympic National Park.

In 1788, the raw beauty of Washington state's Olympic Peninsula moved British sea captain John Meares to proclaim, "If that be not the home where dwell the Gods, it is beautiful enough to be, and I therefore call it Mount Olympus." Olympic National Park, situated in the north central part of Washington state, is a mountainous area with glacier covered peaks, lakes, and steep river valleys sheltering pristine old-growth forests and temperate rain forests. Miles of rugged shoreline with eroded coastal cliffs and waters brimming with an array of sea life skirt the area. The peninsula is so isolated that at least 9 types of plants and 16 kinds of wildlife are unknown anywhere else. Olympic also has a wide range of significant archeological sites, including high-altitude sites that are the subject of current research by NPS archeologists.

For thousands of years, American Indians have made their home on the peninsula, but major evidence of their ancestral presence came in the 1970s when erosion exposed the remains of a more than 500-year old Makah settlement in Ozette. Archeologists recovered harpoons, carved figurines, and household items, many of which are now displayed in the Makah Cultural and Resource Center on the peninsula's north shore at Neah Bay. Protection of the park also helped preserve many other archeological sites, from high mountain hearth sites to extensive coastal middens. In 1993, a piece of woven material found at the edge of a snowfield in the park's high country was determined to be part of a 2,900 year old basket - a tangible link to the Native Americans who lived and moved through the Olympic Mountains. The bond between Native Americans and the region remain strong; Olympic National Park is associated with more tribal groups than any other national park.

Sixteenth-century European explorers looking for a trade route to the Pacific were the first to report on the area, but it was in the 18th century that most in-depth exploration took place. In the mid-1800s, pioneers moved into the area and settled mostly along the coast, avoiding the ruggedly wild interior. Prompted by the reports of Lt. Joseph O'Neil of the U.S. Army, most of the region's forested land was set aside as the Olympic Forest Reserve in 1897 by President Grover Cleveland.

President Theodore Roosevelt, moved primarily to protect a large herd of rain forest elk found only in the Northwest, designated a portion of the forest land the Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909. It was described as “the slopes of Mount Olympusand the adjacent summits of the Olympic Mountains ... embrace ... numerous glaciers, and ... the summer range and breeding grounds of the Olympic Elk ... a species peculiar to these mountains and rapidly decreasing in numbers” (Proc. No. 869). President Wilson reduced the size of the monument from its original 610,000 to 300,000 acres. The Forest Service, under the Cleator Plan of 1930, proposed to manage the monument as a primitive road-less area to preserve the wilderness qualities “so that immense territories of the mountain fastness would be left untrammeled.” The National Monument became part of the National Park Service in 1933. In 1938 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation creating Olympic National Park, which was enlarged in 1953 to include a strip of rugged coast. Remains of early homesteads and historic structures from initial protection efforts and depression-era government employment programs also allow visitors a glimpse into the past.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named the park an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 for the extraordinary scenic and scientific values of its rain forest. In 1981, the park was designated a World Heritage Park for its outstanding natural and cultural values. Ninety-five percent of the park was further protected from human encroachment when Congress added it to the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1988.

Over 3 million visitors a year visit Olympic National Park's the more than 922,000 acres of mountains, forest, and coastal areas. Activities include sightseeing, day hiking, backpacking, driving tours, ranger-guided education programs, self-guided walking tours, and seasonal activities, such as snowshoeing, boating, climbing, and fishing.

The collections at Olympic National Park reflect the variety of resources found within this special landscape. Over 200,000 natural specimens and cultural objects including archives are represented. Many of the specimens were collected as part of research projects or are themselves research subjects. There are extensive herbarium and geology collections as well as a fine assemblage of ethnographic objects, such as baskets, tools, and art.

Here are a few comments from the "what is the special significance of this park?" section of past Visitor Survey cards:

  • “One needs to learn about our nation's great natural beauty and resources. This park reminds us everyday of what we have and the environment that we must protect for future generations.”
  • “Preserving the ancient old growth forests and the plant, animal and human communities that depend on them to thrive.”
  • “I've never seen such breathtaking nature.”
  • “The variety of natural wonders it protects: beach/ocean, rainforest, forest and streams, mountain lakes. It is an amazing treasure to protect and preserve.”
  • “The natural wonders of the area, the native American culture, the near proximity of several diverse natural attractions - i.e., coast, mountains, and rainforests.”
  • “A unique treasure of beaches, mountains, and forest wilderness that would not exist without protection (from exploitation) of national park status.”


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