Quileute vs. NPS Pissing Match: Enough!

A land dispute between a northwestern Indian tribe and the National Park Service (NPS) may not mean much to most readers of this BLOG, but it is (as with most themes discussed here) a matter of principal.

During a combined photo shoot and personal vacation to the great Northwest, we drove to the parking area for Second Beach, near LaPush WA. This was a place we had explored three years before with no problem — a beautiful area with lush, moist forest of Sitka spruce and western hemlock, and a classical Washington beach which is (or was?) part of Olympic National Park.

Rugged basalt headlands bracket a broad wash of surf, sand, wave-smoothed pebbles, backed by a sentinel of giant driftwood logs heaved ashore by the big waves of winter. A high hill and hiking trail separate the beach from the road, and the hike is well worth the effort made for the sights, sounds and scents of the rain forest along the way, the soothing rush of the sound of the surf, the numerous nooks and crannies to explore in the headlands and tidal pools, and not least, the sublime vistas of the northwest coast at its finest.

Stop. The trailhead is closed.

It wasn’t before. What changed? Did something collapse and render it unsafe? Is there a big bad bear out there? Voracious, toddler-eating cougars on the loose? Bigfoot, enraged? Alien ship landed? Any other truly meaningful, practical reason?

No. Instead it’s stupid bureaucracy and petty childishness at work.

A large red sign (on which I didn’t want to waste a photo) proclaimed the beach and the parking area closed because of NPS control over Rialto Beach — a separate area located the other side of a town and a river mouth, several miles farther north. “Wait a minute,” I thought at first, “This is a National Park beach. Does the tribe have the authority to do this?” Based on NPS printed maps and web content, I thought this was NPS land. Closer examination, however, shows that a short segment of the trail from the parking area partly uphill toward the beach is owned by the Quileute tribe.

Some investigation revealed that, in short, the spat indeed is centered mainly on that Rialto Beach land, and (as stated, anyway) the desire of the tribe to move a school to a specific patch of higher ground apparently not available to them for tsunami safety.

The Quileute Tribal Council closed Second Beach’s parking area and its segment of the forest trail as a result. I since have read about the particulars of the dispute, and you’re welcome to follow some links here (including this) if you’re interested. The tribe has some valid concerns, as revealed in this summary from Forks and in this independent site. So does the NPS.

[Sidetrack: Tsunami safety now is an issue? Give me a break. We’ve known about tsunami hazards in that area for over half a century and the tribe has for hundreds of years. Rialto is mentioned on the trailhead sign, and the tsunami concern is not, which makes me suspect that 1) The former is the real struggle here and 2)The latter was concoted as a tactical, “bleeding heart” PR ploy by the tribe to fortify its maneuver for Rialto.]

There are other facets to this argument too, upon which I won’t spend bandwidth in the interest of getting to the real point. Uiltimately, the details behind the argument are irrelevant to the broader principles of reasoned debate and discourse that are being grossly violated here — mainly but not entirely by the Quileutes — in trying to settle this. If it’s partly their land, the tribe has the legal right to close access. But if they truly didn’t want folks hiking across this land, why ever open it up for public use in the first place?

To allow access for years, then close it again when something isn’t going well elsewhere, is a tactic borrowed straight from the bratty power-grabbing of a small child upset that he isn’t getting his way. Here’s what it reminds me of: Billy and Johnny are four year olds playing in Billy’s sand box. Johnny’s been using Billy’s sand box for a long time and this hasn’t been a problem. One day Billy gets mad at Johnny for not letting him play with more toys at Johnny’s house next door. Johnny has to leave the sand box. See Billy and Johnny whine.

The Quileutes have a rich and deeply fascinating history, which does include, unfortunately, mistreatment at the hands of some Europeans. However, that was then, this is now, and opening past wounds won’t benefit either side in the debate. It’s time to resolve the dispute where appropriate — in the court system, not on the (beach) sandbox. In the meantime, it’s sad to see the tribe’s officials soil their largely noble heritage with this officially sanctioned display of childish, provincialistic pettiness.

Of course, the NPS is not without mud on its face in this mess, either. The official NPS site for Second Beach only mentions that it is “closed until further notice,” leaving folks absolutely in the dark as to the reasons. Why the silence? What is the NPS scared of…telling folks the truth? A simple link would solve that problem.

It took a good deal of digging through the NPS site to find an old news item about this. The news item should be linked directly from all NPS site material related to Second Beach and the Olympic National Park coastal segments as a whole, instead of forcing folks to root around blindly, hither and yon, for more information. That’s lousy public service. We, along with everyone else who has tried to use that formnerly open-access trail, could have avoided the wasted time and gasoline of the drive to Second Beach, with more openness and governmental accountability on the part of NPS.

Otherwise, am I resentful over the lack of access for us, personally? No. We went to Third Beach, and later Rialto, having a fantastic time and taking some unique and special photographs that I’ll share in the coming weeks, and which wouldn’t have been possible at Second Beach. The troublesome thing was that the ending of formerly open public access to a spectacular place was not the result of some hazardous condition, or other rational reason, but instead a pissing contest involving two supposedly adult-managed bureaucratic bodies. Ridiculous!



Comments

2 Responses to “Quileute vs. NPS Pissing Match: Enough!”

  1. Fighting fair on October 10th, 2006 9:27 pm

    [Editor’s note: The misspelling and poor capitalization by the anonymous (of course) sender were left in, as were the substantive part of the reply; but the mindless personal attacks before and after this paragraph were removed at Editor’s discretion.]

    For your information, I have been privilaged to visit the lower reservation for years, decades for your peace of mind. Where the tribal school is located, is indeed in Tsunami zone, as is the entire lower village. These people, along with the majority of the Indian people, were definitely mistreated and taken advantage of. Their land was taken away from them, in return, they were placed on a small parcel of land.

  2. tornado on October 13th, 2006 6:43 am

    That was a lame, predictable and fairly meaningless response, as is to be expected from an anonymous author with a bogus e-mail address. [The personal attacks before and after the part above were removed to save bandwidth.] Will anyone stand up and put his/her real identity and e-mail address behind a rational, reasoned piece of discourse on this topic?

    ===== Roger ======

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