Trailside Shelters

At Olympic National Park, the history of trailside shelters use and development can generally be followed through six periods of construction and design expressed in either extant structures or park documents. These cover both Forest Service and National Park Service administrative periods.

Period I: 1905 to 1934

The Forest Service administered both the Olympic National Forest and Mount Olympus National Monument during these years.

In 1910, five years after the creation of the Forest Service, catastrophic fires ravaged the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Five million acres burned and 85 men were dead. The Forest Service was ill equipped and under manned to prevent the loss. The legacy of the fires was a decades long determination by Forest Service administration to suppress every fire that started at all costs. 1

From the very beginning, Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot had advocated that extensive trail systems would be required for management of the national forests. After the 1910 fires, fire suppression became the primary management objective of the Forest Service. For many foresters and rangers, the lack of adequate trail systems within the forests was viewed as one of the primary causes for all the devastation. Well designed and maintained trail systems would allow a few men to get to a fire quickly before it grew out of control. This belief emerged into an ideology that a trail system, coupled with lookout towers and telephones, would provide the logistical means to manage forest fires and protect timber assets. This would be a dominant policy of the Forest Service until the late 1970's. 2

The Forest Service concept of a trail system envisioned use by foot and horseback. The trails were to be used for fire patrol and fire fighting crews. To support the crews, equipment caches were to be incorporated into the trail design at periodic intervals, as was protection for crews and patrolmen in the form of cabins and trailside shelters. Supervisor P. S. Lovejoy was the first to initiate the application of this policy on the Olympic National Forest in 1912. Lovejoy was in Montana during the 1910 fires and was deeply affected by the experience. He said people considered him a "fire crank," for which he did not apologize. By the summer of 1912, his crews had "made a fair start to the shelters this season and the boys have the idea and will develop it if encouraged." Unfortunately, none of these early shelters have survived, and we know neither the number built nor the nature of the design. 3

Shelter Development

Figure No. 1: U. S. Forest Service constructed Adirondack style trailside shelters in Pike National Forest, 1917 4

While trailside shelters were built as part of the fire management system developed by the Forest Service, trailside shelters were also being constructed for recreational purposes. (See Figure No. 1) Recreational use of the National Forest was recognized early in the history of the Forest Service, but there was no overall national policy until the 1930s. In the interim, recreational policies were left to each regional administration.

The North Pacific Region 6 of the Forest Service [Washington and Oregon] had simple lean-to trailside shelters for recreation as early as 1916, though we do not know their number or location. 5   By the early 1920's, the Olympic National Forest began to experience a sharp increase in the number of visitor venturing into the backcountry. 6

Shelter Development

Figure No. 2: Three variations of 12' x 12' shelter plans from 1934 Region 6 Building Plans handbook.

In 1927, under the direction of Forest Service planner F. W. Cleator, the Olympic National Forest Recreation Plan was developed. Cleator's plan essentially zoned the forest for various recreational uses. For the backcountry, Cleator identified both existing trails and new proposed trails with "recreational value," along which he proposed to construct rustic trailside shelters.

These shelters were, "frankly intended to be a dual-purpose development," serving both as administrative quarters for trail builders, fire patrols, traveling FS officers, and for "the red-blooded fisherman and wilderness seeker." 7   Within five years of the development of Cleator's recreation plan the Forest Service had constructed roughly 100 trailside shelters. 8

Shelter Development

Figure No. 3: 14' x 14' shelter plan from 1934 Region 6 Building Plans handbook.

Cleator described his proposed trailside shelters as, "rough shelters of native logs, rock with shakes or other local materials." 9   By 1934 the North Pacific Region 6 had developed and issued a handbook of standard building plans that included two styles of overnight shelters "..useful in connection with trail maintenance, stock driveways and some Forest camps, particularly those frequented by pedestrian fishermen, alpinists, etc." 10 See Figures No. 2, and 3.

Of the ten (10) trailside shelters constructed by the Forest Service from 1928 (one year after Cleater's Report) to 1932 still existing in Olympic National Park, all are strikingly similar in style and size to the L-4 plan shown in Figure No. 3. They were 14' x 14' three sided, rustic wood framed structures with an offset gable roof of cedar shakes. Not one, though, matches perfectly in character of materials or structural frame. Some use split or squared cedar for the frame instead of log, while other use log, but

Shelter Development

Figure No. 4: Hyak Shelter built in 1928 and Three Forks Shelter built in 1930 are both similar to the 1934 L-4 Standard shelter plan; look closely though at the brace framing on Hyak, and the offset wall beam of Three Forks, slight, but distinguishable variation.

vary in the sequence of bracing and frame details. Two have open front sidewalls similar to standard plans L-1 and L-2. With each of these historic Forest Service shelters a slight variation of the final standard plan, plus their having been built prior to the issuance of the standard plan, suggests they are early prototype variations dependent on the experience of individual builders and local materials.

Period II: 1934 to 1938: NPS and the National Monument

Between 1934 and 1938, the National Park Service administered Mount Olympus National Monument located within the Olympic National Forest. The Forest Service administered National Forest Service property outside the monument. In the first full summer of park administration (1935), Superintendent Macy noted that, "All shelters in Monument filled almost daily - need of additional shelters is very apparent, but it takes more than a lack of shelters to keep the lovers of the wilderness at home." 11   By the end of October 1935, the Park Service had constructed four new shelters within the Monument similar to the typical Forest Service style.. 12

Shelter Development

Figure No. x: 5: The Anderson Pass shelter was almost 20 feet square; one of the first shelters built by the National Park Service.

Only one of the original four historic shelters constructed the National Park Service remain from this period: Anderson Pass (1934). Home Sweet Home (1935), and Low Divide [Renegade] (1935) have been lost to weather and are not scheduled to be replaced. These shelters had similarities in style with the Forest Service Standard Plan L-4, but were larger, and had some rustic details more associated with National Park Service design standards. The shelters were nearly 19 feet wide, and varied from 14 to 20 feet deep. The largest, Anderson Pass Shelter was twice the size of the early Forest Service shelters. Two of the shelters have curved logs for knee braces, while one even has exposed beam tails. While both of these could be interpreted as design details characteristic of the early National Park Service rustic style, the curved knee braces were actually installed by Park Service maintenance personnel in 1990. 13 These larger shelters had space for chairs and tables, plus sleeping areas. They were constructed to cater to larger hiking parties and protect more people during inclement weather. These were recreational shelters.

Period III: 1938 to 1941: NPS & CCC

In 1938, Olympic National Park was created from a combination of selected Olympic National Forest lands and Mount Olympus National Monument. These early years, continuing through World War II, were a tumultuous period when the Park staff was consumed with development of a management program; administration of the Depression-era PWA, WPA, and CCC programs, including construction of new headquarters buildings; and legislative disputes over park boundaries. Even with these other issues, the concern over backcountry recreational demands was not lost.

Shelter Development

Figure No. 6: The Soleduck Falls Shelter was a National Park Service rustic design construction, complete with metal fireplace hood over porch.

In August 1938, only one month since creation of the Park, Custodian Macy was receiving complaints about lack of trailside shelters. 14   This need was fully recognized just a month earlier during formulation of the first park management plan. Widely acknowledged as a wilderness park, whereby the fundamental park experience occurred through a backcountry trail system, the management plan established a clear policy: "..., it will be necessary to provide many more trailside shelters than now exist." 15   Funds from the Public Works Administration (PWA) had been allocated for additional trailside shelter design and construction by October 1938, with plans and sites selected by December of that year.. 16   The CCC completed the first new shelter constructed after creation of the Park at Soleduck Falls (Canyon Creek) in August 1939, using a design that was larger and more formally rustic than had ever appeared before.. 17   (See Figure No. x-6) Two more shelters of this same design were completed at Moose Lake (sometimes referred to as Grand Lake) and Hoh Lake in October 1939. 18

Period IV: 1941 to 1951: Compact Design

The United States entered World War II in December 1941. For the next three and half years, the park and park staff was consumed with the war effort, supporting the Aircraft Warning System (AWS) sites and other military support programs. The AWS was disbanded 1 June 1944, six days before 19   D-Day. As a result, the administration could now refocus on park issues, with some of the most pressing being recreational and sanitation improvements to many of the backcountry sites.

By late 1948, plans for new trailside shelters had been completed and materials placed on order. In September 1949, two new shelters had been constructed at Lake Angeles and two at Glacier Meadows. These new shelters were much simpler, smaller, and lower in profile than the older Forest Service shelters. The public reaction was very favorable: "Compact and rugged as their surroundings." "Privacy for small groups appreciated." "Better than the larger type shelters." "Best seen on tour of U.S." The following month a shelter was completed at Lunch Lake (Seven Lakes Basin) and a replacement shelter started at Sol Duc Park. In May 1951, Superintendent Macy organized a three-man crew specifically to restore three shelters damaged by flooding in the Elwha Basin and to construct new shelters elsewhere in the Park. 20   The Wilder Shelter was completed in July 1951.

These new shelters were a radical change from previous shelter design. Nearly a third smaller in floor area than the older Forest Service shelters and half the size of the elaborate rustic shelters erected by the CCC at Soleduck Falls (Canyon Creek), the shelters consisted of a simple three-sided log lean-to, with a shallow shed roof and dirt floor. They were minimal in nature, less intrusive to the landscape, and designed for recreational use. NPS hoped that the solid log walls would reduce the vandalism of the shake-covered sidewalls that had plagued many of the early Forest Service shelters. 21   These compact, modest structures were located at popular camping locations to serve the ever-increasing number of backcountry visitors.

Period V: 1952:

In the fall of 1951, Fred J. Overly became Superintendent. He continued the policy of shelter construction, but the shelter design was altered. This alteration represents another phase in the continuing evolution of a recreational trailside shelter policy within Olympic National Park. Bear Camp shelter is the only extant shelter left of this particular design from that 1952 construction. 22   It represents the second design variation of a new shelter generation constructed by the National Park Service in the late 1940's and early 1950's to specifically address the increase of national recreational activity following World War II.

Building upon this new-founded support for smaller shelters, the 1952 construction program borrowed strongly from two strikingly similar designs. First, there was a plan published in the National Park Service 1938 publication, Parks and Recreational Structures, by Albert H. Good. 23   In Part II of this publication, sub-titled Recreational and Cultural Facilities, Plate F-7, is the plan for a trailside shelter called the Adirondack Shelter. The second source was the 1934 Forest Service plan for recreational shelters (See Figure No. 2). Both these plans show a structure remarkably similar to the Bear Camp shelter. It is a three sided, log construction, with an open front. The gable roof has a long slope to the rear, with a shorter overhang at the front. The Bear Camp shelter is similar in design to the National Park Service plan, but is only 12' x 12', which more closely follows the Forest Service design. It also has vertical logs to support the front purlin of the overhang and vertical log pairs to stabilize the front section of the sidewalls. In a curious deviation from past shelter design, this shelter design has the short front roof slope projecting past the ridgepole for smoke ventilation. In addition to following this new standard design, bunks were installed in the shelter as originally recommended in the 1938 management program for the new national park. 24   Visitors to the backcountry often cut nearby tree boughs for bedding, resulting in serious damage to the surrounding trees. Providing bunks fitted with split cedar or spruce was thought to reduce such damage. Bear Camp still retains split cedar bunks.

Shelter Development

Figure No. x: 7: Bear Camp Shelter, built 1952.

This trailside shelter followed the successful earlier compact design of 1949 with its smaller and more compact character, but incorporated stylistic elements of both Forest Service and National Park Service accepted plans. It laid the foundation for the final variation of trailside shelters of the 1960's.

Period VI: 1953 to 1963: Final Design

The National Park Service embarked on its last trailside shelter construction program in the early 1960's. Happy Hollow Shelter, completed in August of 1963, was one the last shelters built in the Park. 25

Following World War II, recreational interest in the National Park System had grown dramatically. Visitation increased nearly 150%, going from 22 million in 1946 to 50 million by 1955. Park facilities were overwhelmed, and negative public reaction resulted in the creation of a new 10-year program to provide improved services. The program was called "Mission 66," intended to culminate in 1966 on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service. One of the many aspects 26   of Mission 66 was the formation of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) in 1957. Created as a non-profit organization, the SCA provided student volunteers to work on park improvements. Over the course of the next four summers, beginning in 1960, SCA built five trailside shelters within Olympic National Park, two in the interior and three on the coast. None survive today.

Apparently, there was a demand for more trailside shelters than the volunteer SCA program could provide. In the summer of 1963, park administration decided to build fifteen new shelters. Day labor was hired, and starting in June of 1963, eight new shelters were erected in the backcountry by October, including Happy Hollow shelter. 27   The design is attributed to a sketch "on the back of an envelope" by the park Division Chief. The work was done with chainsaws, not utilizing any mill attachments, but snapping chalk lines and free hand ripping out the timbers. Most of the shelter roofs were constructed of 42" hand-split shakes, unlike the 36" used most frequently on the earlier Forest Service shelters. These shelters continued the pattern of the previous period by having the front roof slope projecting past the ridgepole. 28

The seven remaining planned shelters were never completed, most likely due to the passage the following year (1964) of the Wilderness Act, a policy that would forever change the shelter program.

Though no new shelters were built for the rest of the decade of the 1960's, park crews and the Student Conservation Association continued maintenance work on many of the existing shelters. In 1971, the Youth Conservation Corps did assist the park in constructing Toleak Point shelter, the last shelter built in the park.

Thus, the shelters of 1963 represent the fourth and last variation of a new shelter design constructed by the National Park Service from the late 1930's to early 1960's to specifically address the increase of national recreational activity.

Shelter Development

Figure No. x: 8: Happy Hollow Shelter, built 1963.


The historic trailside shelters of Olympic National Park remarkably represent the development and evolution of both the Forest Service and National Park Service designs. Beginning prior to the establishment of standard plans, and going through a series of modifications, the shelters show the response of the administrations to the recreational and management needs of the Park.

1 Lewis, James G., The Forest Service and The Greatest Good, Forest History Society, 2005, p. 78.
2 Ibid., p. 81.
3 Rough draft Memo for Fromme, signed P.S. L., 1912. On file, RG95, Records of the US Forest Service, Olympic National Forest, History Files ca. 1899-1990, Box 8, R.L. Fromme Papers, Folder; Correspondence.
4 Tweed, William C., A History of Outdoor Recreation Development in National Forest: 1891-1942, Clemson University, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management, c. 1970, page 9
5 Ibid., page 9
6 Cleator, F. W., Recreational Facilities of the Olympic National Forest and Forest Service Plan of Development, University of Washington Forest Club Quarterly 10:2 (1936-1937)
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Olympic National Forest, Recreation Atlas, Olympic National Forest, RG95, Records of the US Forest Service, Olympic National Forest, Map Case 5, NA-PNR, Seattle; F. W. Cleator, Report on Proposed Olympic Primitive Area, 1930.
10 U.S. Forest Service Building Plans, 1934, North Pacific Region, page 14,
11 Report from Preston P. Macy, Asst. Chief Ranger, to OA Tomlinson, Supt. Mount Rainier National Park, 2 Sept. 1935; Superintendent's Narrative Reports, Accession No. OLYM-420, Catalog No. OLYM 18242, Box 1, Olympic National Park Archives.
12 Ibid., November 2, 1935.
13 Donald Houk stated that he and Blaine Dalton made repairs to Anderson Pass Shelter in 1990 they installed the curved knee braces; when they got to the shelter, there were no knee braces on the building and "We just threw (them) in as part of the fun of doing the shelter,..."; Oral Interview discussion with Ted Sullivan, Jack Nattinger and Donald Houk by Paul Gleeson, September 27, 2007.
14 Report from Preston P. Macy, Asst. Chief Ranger, to OA Tomlinson, Supt. Mount Rainier National Park, 3 Sept. 1938; Superintendent's Narrative Reports, Accession No. OLYM-420, Catalog No. OLYM 18242, Box 1, Olympic National Park Archives.
15 Statement of Controlling Development Policies, July 1938, OLYM-621, p. B-3, Olympic National Park Archives
16 Ibid, October 3, 1938 and December 3, 1938.
17 Ibid, September 12, 1939.
18 Ibid, November 3, 1939.
19 Ibid, June 12, 1944.
20 Report from Preston P. Macy, Asst. Chief Ranger, to OA Tomlinson, Supt. Mount Rainier National Park, May. 1951; Superintendent's Narrative Reports, Accession No. OLYM-420, Catalog No. OLYM 18242, Box 1, Olympic National Park Archives
21 Ibid, 7 August,1947.
22 Date of 1952 from List of Classified Structures (LCS), office of Paul Gleeson.
23 Good, Albert H., Park and Recreational Structures, published by the National Park Service, 1938.
24 Statement of Controlling Development Policies, 1938, p. B-4, Trailside Shelter policy.
25 Superintendent Doerr's monthly report for September 1963; Superintendent's Narrative Reports, Accession No. OLYM-420, Catalog No. OLYM 18242, Box 1, Olympic National Park Archives
26 McClelland, Linda Flint, Building the National Parks, John Hopkins University Press, 1998, p. 463.
27 See Superintendent's monthly reports from June 1963 to October 1963; Superintendent's Narrative Reports, Accession No. OLYM-420, Catalog No. OLYM 18242, Box 1, Olympic National Park Archives
28 Personal correspondence from Russ Dalton, retired NPS staff, and Paul Gleeson, February 8, 2008, on file at ONP archives.

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