The History of Olympic National Park Wa

Though Native Americans have dwelled on the Olympic Peninsula long before it became part of western history, living on the coastline and along the interior of the peninsular and feeding off fish from the sea and from nearby rivers, land mammals, berries and roots, it was from as early as the 16th century that European explorers really began to uncover the mystery of this vast continent, including this north-western national park.

A Greek-Spaniard by the name of Juan de Fuca is said to be the first man to have found this northern passage towards the pacific in 1592, but this claim was never proven, and of course, doubted by subsequent explorers. In 1778, Captain James Cook took a break at the end of the northwest peninsula of Olympic National Park. He named it ‘Cape Flattery’. He also made note of the fact that it was in this direction exactly that Juan de Fuca claimed to have found his passage.

In 1787, Captain Charles William Barkely, from England, uncovered the passage from the same peninsular to Vancouver Island, and proceeded in sending his men out to explore and discover the stretch.

The first known settlers arrived in this area in the mid-1800’s, and made homes on level land, near sea level, while the predominantly mountainous and rugged landscape which was previously named ‘Mount Olympus’ was left unexplored. The first clearly documented journey across this land was documented in 1885.

It was this year that saw an army lieutenant by the name of Joseph O’Neil lead a small group of men up from Vancouver to the Olympic Mountains on an exploration of the land. He started down in the small town of Port Angeles – which at the time was a tiny town of around 40 inhabitants. He made this his starting point because of the close proximity with the surrounding mountains. It took his men a month to climb up to ‘Hurricane Ridge Road’.

In 1889, Charles Gilman took his son on a trip up the western slopes of Olympic Peninsula and the Quinault River Valley, before Joseph O’Neil set off on another exploration, this time including a group of scientists from Oregon, across the Peninsula, from Hood Canal to the pacific coast.

Spending the summer in the Eastern Olympics, O’Neil found a man named Judge James Wickersham, who was leading another party in the area. Together they decided that the establishment of a national park was absolutely necessary, and O’Neil wrote a recommendation to the state, saying that the interior of the land was useless for practical purposes, but highly valuable and that it should be protected.

It was 1897 when the forested land over the peninsula was put on the Olympic Forest Reserve (now Olympic National Forest), due to O’Neil’s recommendation. After many failed bills to establish a national park throughout the early 1900’s, it was Washington congressman, Monrad C. Wallgren who finally sponsored a bill for a national park in 1935.