In previous episodes, we traced the history of land ownership of the Olympic Peninsula in general and the Hoh River in particular.
It began with the Native Americans and passed to various, warring European colonial powers and, ultimately, to the rugged American homesteaders.
The valley of the Hoh was one of the last places in the United States where you could settle on unclaimed land. This tradition came to a crashing halt in 1897 when President Grover Cleveland established the 2-million-acre Olympic Forest Reserve that encompassed almost two-thirds of the Olympic Peninsula.
By then, the elk on the Olympic Peninsula were well on their way to becoming an endangered species.
In his 1885 expedition, Lt. Joseph P. O’Neil found large herds of elk up in the Hurricane Ridge country that were so tame they wouldn’t spook when he shot at them.
With the increasing human population, elk were market-hunted for their meat and killed for their ivory teeth, then the fashion on the watch fobs of members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
Elk Mountain, off the Obstruction Point Road, was named for a famous elk massacre where the elk were shot and left to rot. Elk left the area and never came back.
In 1905, elk hunting was outlawed in Washington.
Meanwhile, under pressure from logging, mining and railroad interests, President William McKinley and Congress reduced the size of the Forest Reserve by 750,000 acres in 1900. The Forest Lieu Act allowed railroads to exchange useless acres of sagebrush, deserts and mountains given to them as a government subsidy for some of the most valuable stands of spruce, cedar and Douglas fir in the Pacific Northwest.
By this time, the conservation movement was starting in the United States.
When Theodore Roosevelt was elected President in 1901, he selected Gifford Pinchot, a Connecticut millionaire with a passion for saving forests, to lead the newly created Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture. Pinchot’s goal was to regulate logging so that the harvest did not exceed the new growth of timber.
This balance between harvest and growth was threatened by the increasing wildfires that raged across the west from slash burning in logging and farming operations. The Forest Service began building a system of trails connecting to fire lookouts located throughout the Olympic Mountains to spot the fires before they had a chance to spread.
Two days before leaving office in 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt was convinced by conservationists to sign an executive order creating the 620,000-acre Olympus National Monument to protect what was left of the elk.
In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson cut the monument back to 328,000 acres in an effort to mine manganese for armaments in WWI.
By the 1930s, the United States was plunged into the depths of The Great Depression.
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corp. The CCC was a voluntary public work relief program for young men that built trails and shelters throughout the Olympics.
In 1938, President Roosevelt signed a bill creating Olympic National Park. In 1953, President Harry Truman added the coastal strip, which put the mouth of the Hoh River within the Olympic National Park.
The constantly changing nature of federal land management made the large timber companies reluctant to build railroads into the Hoh River country.
Meanwhile, the 355-mile-long Olympic Loop Highway, today’s U.S. Highway 101, was completed in 1931.
This made it possible to truck logs from the Hoh River to previously unreachable markets.
Next: The Logging Capitol of the World.