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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hurricane Ridge lodge fire sends ‘shock waves’ through Port Angeles

By Gregory Scruggs Seattle Times

PORT ANGELES, Wash. – Whether buried in snow or bedecked by wildflowers, the Hurricane Ridge Day Lodge has been a beacon for 70 years atop the Olympic Peninsula. It has sheltered hikers, skiers and snowshoers from ferocious Pacific storms and helped millions of visitors from across the world understand and appreciate Olympic National Park’s one-of-a-kind confluence of glaciers, rainforest and coastline.

In the wake of a Sunday structure fire that destroyed the lodge, Port Angeles residents are mourning the loss of an “icon” and “landmark.”

“It sent shock waves through the community,” said Tommy Farris, owner and general manager of Olympic Hiking Company, which runs a shuttle service between Port Angeles and Hurricane Ridge.

The lodge’s remnants continued to smolder on Monday, when a National Park Service structural fire investigator visited the site ahead of a full third-party federal investigation.

“We are still developing the basic facts around the incident and trying to determine the origin of the cause,” acting Deputy Superintendent Roy Zipp said.

No one was present when the fire began at an unknown time Sunday. A law enforcement ranger on patrol reported the lodge was fully engulfed in flames about 4:30 p.m., according to an Olympic National Park statement.

The 17-mile road from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge had already been closed to the public since March 27 so JMG Constructors of Poulsbo could stage equipment for a $10.8 million lodge renovation, funded by the Great American Outdoors Act, that would have addressed much-needed deferred maintenance and brought the historic structure up to current building codes. When reached by phone, JMG Constructors project manager Jeffrey Granlee declined to comment.

The road was expected to reopen by Memorial Day weekend, although construction was anticipated to last through spring 2024.

The anticipated yearlong closure of the lodge, which was built in 1952 and had been twice remodeled, meant park officials already had a plan for both summer and winter public access to Hurricane Ridge. How the lodge’s eventual reconstruction affects park access remains unclear, but park concessionaires are optimistic that both summer visitation and the winter ski area will remain operational.

The fire comes at a moment of upward momentum for Hurricane Ridge. In addition to the lodge’s first renovation in over two decades, the Heart O’ the Hills campground at the base of the road is in the midst of a $3.1 million water and wastewater rehabilitation. Last year, Clallam Transit began operating three-times-daily $1 bus service from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge seven days a week from June to October, allowing visitors to skip peak season traffic jams. The park itself, meanwhile, has a new superintendent, Sula Jacobs, who came on the job in June.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the loss is “devastating for the Olympic Peninsula.”

“I am working with (Interior) Secretary (Deb) Haaland and the National Park Service to make sure this historic lodge is rebuilt,” she said in a statement.

Olympic National Park consistently ranks among the top 15 most popular national parks, but its diverse geography, harsh weather and rugged terrain makes it a difficult landscape to grasp visually. The Pacific Coast beaches and sea stacks are distinct from the dense interior rainforests of moss and lichen, and neither afford clear views of the glaciated alpine peaks. This breathtaking biodiversity spread over 1 million acres has earned the park global recognition as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Hurricane Ridge sees about 300,000 annual visitors. While less than the 415,000 who flock to the Hoh Rain Forest each year – causing long delays at the entrance station due to full parking lots – the highest road-accessible point on the Olympic Peninsula provides a unique vantage point.

“The lodge was a classic construction with one of the best views of the interior of the Olympics you could ever see without hiking through it,” said Roger Oakes, founder and past president of the Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club and author of “Skiing in Olympic National Park,” which documents the lodge’s construction.

The fully paved road to Hurricane Ridge – completed in 1957 as part of the National Park Service’s Mission 66 modernization campaign – facilitates alpine access for visitors without vehicles capable of navigating rutted forest roads or the ability to hike long distances in the backcountry.

The day lodge, meanwhile, provided a home base for visitors to understand what unfolded before their eyes from its captivating vista. Three-dimensional topographic maps, historical exhibits and ranger talks on the outdoor patio all enriched the visual splendor. During inclement weather – not uncommon in a place called Hurricane Ridge – the lodge was a refuge for hikers, skiers and snowshoers taking shelter from squalls and blizzards storming in off the Pacific.

“The visitor center represented the ability for anyone to go up to Hurricane Ridge, pending road and weather conditions,” said Farris, whose company ferries some 3,000 hikers annually. When timed with the Black Ball Ferry between Port Angeles and Victoria, British Columbia, Vancouver Island residents can make a day trip to the mountain range that frames their view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

While Farris runs a business dependent on access to the park, he stressed that as the gateway to Hurricane Ridge, Port Angeles residents have an emotional connection to their alpine neighbor.

“We just want to wrap our arms around the park and as a community say, ‘How can we help? How can we get this historic and iconic building back?’ ” he said.