By Douglas Scott
It was Roger Blain’s first day on the job. He had just moved with his wife, relocating from the giant Sequoia trees to the rainforest of the Quinault for a new job with the National Park Service. Roger was hired to be the Quinault District Ranger by Olympic National Park, one of many jobs that led him around the country.
Roger was told by the chief ranger that his first day should consist of getting to know his region, something Roger was eager to take on as his first official task. Grabbing his gear, he headed off on a hike into the wilderness of the Quinault unaware of the amazing day in nature he had in store. Along the trails, Roger recalls walking through huge maples and the impressive forests of the Quinault before approaching the river. As he grew nearer to the shore, a splashing noise began to increase. Standing on the river’s edge, Roger witnessed the sacred dance of spawning salmon that has been going on in our rivers for millennia. This was his first day on the job, and he was part of an amazing day on the river, one that would get better and better before the sun plunged beyond the shores of Lake Quinault.
Standing on the shores of the Quinault River, Roger watched the spawning salmon in amazement. Having never seen a live salmon before, he was fortunate enough to be seeing them spawn on a pristine, glacier-fed river. Within minutes of arriving at the river, Roger watched in awe as an eagle appeared from a nearby tree, caught a salmon out of the river and drug it to the shore to eat.
As Roger watched, on his first day of work, he decided to not push his luck and opted to head home before sunset. As he hiked through the rainforest, he heard another noise, causing him to stop in his tracks to listen more intently. Within seconds, an elk herd passed by his hiding position, behind a large tree. The elk started to bed down just 20 feet away, unfazed by his presence. Watching the elk for a few minutes, he noticed that they were becoming more active, spooked by something across the forest. It was then he saw three coyotes. The elk, and Roger, quickly left the area, heading back toward the road. As the elk herd passed his house, Roger headed home, completing what has to be the best first day ever.
“When I think of the Quinault, I think of salmon, Roosevelt elk, the nature of the forest,” Roger explains when asked his thoughts on the region. “I can’t think of the Quinault without thinking of tribal history, the clean river, and clean air we have here. I think of the pioneers who settled the valley, lodge, mountains, forest, park service wilderness; it is all so integrated together.”
As Roger retold this story, he promised repeatedly that he wasn’t exaggerating. His inaugural day really as stated and helped make him a lover of the region for his entire tenure. Ranger Blain served in the Quinault from 1993 until 1999, when he retired from the National Park Service and decided to continue to reside in the Quinault Rainforest. Before coming to Olympic National Park, Roger and his wife had been at Sequoia and Kings Canyon, with stays in Acadia and the Everglades National Parks.
On Roger’s first day in November of 1993, it was the first time he had set foot in a rainforest or laid eyes on a salmon.
Drawn in by the region’s natural history, Ranger Blain began to study and gather information about the history of everything Quinault. It was during this time that he learned about the Kestner Homestead along the North Shore of the Quinault Valley. At the time, the Kestner Homestead was rapidly deteriorating. While owned by the National Park Service, it had been forgotten about for 20 years. Roger saw this as an opportunity, organizing a “Kestner Restoration Reunion” for friends and family members of the original homesteaders. The event was so popular, the Olympic National Park Superintendent attended and ended up allocating funds to restore the late 1800s structures.
“If people care, the park will put forth an effort to care,” Roger explained when asked about getting projects noticed by the NPS. “If people don’t care, the Park Service has so many demands on the money they have; if there is no squeaky wheel, it will be placed on the back burner.”
Because he became a squeaky wheel himself, today the Kestner Homestead is a popular stop for those entering the Quinault region. What was once dying history is now giving visitors a glimpse of part of the local history, while also taking them through one of the more memorable maple forests in the Olympic, the Maple Glade Trail. Roger is still quite proud of the project today, knowing that it has helped thousands of people learn more about the Quinault region and giving them a chance to experience the wilderness of the rainforest.
“I am an avid lover of nature, and I just immersed myself and my life in the beauty of the rainforest,” Roger beamed. “It is spectacular. The beauty and the tranquility here is just amazing; we have giant douglas fir trees, the giant spruce, the giant red cedar on the north shore. Even during the summer when there are a lot of visitors, it is still an incredibly peaceful place.”
After retiring from the Park Service, Roger now resides in the Quinault Valley, having run a guide service for those interested in the region’s fishing, hiking, history, culture, and wilderness. The guide service allowed Roger to continue to teach visitors about the natural history and human history of the region as well as to show them the many natural wonders of the rainforest.
The tours, now offered by guides Roger helped train with the Lake Quinault Lodge, are the perfect initial experience to the rainforest for those not looking for long hikes, but instead to experience the entire region’s many beautiful locations and wonders. Full of information, history and wilderness insight that only an expert can provide, the tours at the Lake Quinault Lodge are the perfect day out in the rainforest of the Quinault. For just $30 for a 4-hour tour, this trek reconnects us with the wild beauty of nature in the Quinault rainforest. It integrates us into the Quinault, the same rainforest that Roger Blain had on his first day as a ranger in Olympic National Park.
While Roger may no longer work for the National Park Service, his dedication to the region is still going strong. Preserving and teaching visitors about the history of the region is paramount to the legacy of our National Parks. Thanks to the work of Roger Blain, many visitors to Olympic National Park are hearing about the Quinault Nation, the homesteaders and history of the region while experiencing the gloriousness of the Quinault Rainforest.
More information about the Lake Quinault Lodge and tours can be found here: http://www.olympicnationalparks.com/activities/rainforest-tours.aspx