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Archaeology and history in the Nisqually Corridor, Sunshine Point, Kautz, and Longmire Historic District: Results of the 2006-2007 flood damage survey

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Author(s): Greg C. Burtchard, Jacqueline Y. Cheung, Eric B. Gleason

Document Type:
Publisher: Mount Rainier National Park
Published Year: 2008
Pages: 93
DOI Identifier:
ISBN Identifier:

In Mount Rainier National park, the Nisqually Corridor includes the Nisqually River floodplain and adjacent landforms from the river's origin at the Nisqually glacier near Paradise southwest to the point at which it exits the park near Ashford, Washington. For millennia, the corridor and its flanking ridges and valleys provided access to the mountain's interior forests and seasonally productive upland parks. In early historic times, the character of travel within the corridor changed from exclusively Native American trails, to settler-built horse trails and wagon roads designed to accommodate an increasing fraction of visitors to destinations at Longmire Springs and Paradise. Since the park's founding in 1899, Nisqually Corridor roads have been steadily improved to accommodate increasing visitation and, of course, motor transport. A century later, over 650,000 visitors passed through the Nisqually entrance on their way to Longmire, Paradise, and beyond. Today, the Nisqually Corridor road remains the most heavily traveled route in Mount Rainier National Park.

Various sections of the modern Nisqually road to Paradise, as well as some of its associated park service infrastructure, suffered unprecedented damage during heavy rainstorms on November 6 and 7, 2006. As the flood peaked, sections of road were lost 9.1 and 5.2 miles upstream from the Nisqually entrance. The Nisqually River broke through rip-rap revetments and natural bank vegetation at Longmire; endangering the emergency operation center west of the river, and damaging the access road and old campground on the river's eastern terrace. Downstream, Kautz Creek altered course and overflowed, eroding the road and damaging the Kautz service area near the creek's confluence with the Nisqually. At Sunshine Point, the road and over five acres of camp and picnic ground was lost to the river. Despite immediate initiation of emergency repairs at all of the damage sites in the corridor, the park did not reopen for full visitor services between the Nisqually entrance and Paradise until June 2007.

The archaeological survey reported here focuses on three areas where damage was most severe, and where reoccurring flood damage remains most likely –Sunshine Point, lower Kautz Creek, and Longmire Historic District. Specifically, the study areas include the following: 1) Sunshine Point: terrain lying between Nisqually Road and the Nisqually River from the Nisqually entrance to Tahoma Creek; 2) Lower Kautz Creek: the greater Kautz Creek floodplain and service area between Nisqually Road and the Nisqually River; and 3) Longmire Historic District: the greater Longmire developed area, including Longmire meadows. Map Figure 1 below shows the areas of potential effect established for each of the three Nisqually Corridor project areas. These represent the boundaries of the present study.

The three Nisqually corridor study areas contain archaeologically preserved historic and prehistoric remains related to the development of Mount Rainier, and of potential significance to the National Register of Historic Places. None of these areas, however, had been systematically surveyed for archaeological remains (as opposed to standing buildings and structural features) prior to the present project. Our intent is to provide inventory-level documentation to improve our understanding of historic processes in the Nisqually corridor, and to gather information suitable for inclusion in the park's Nisqually Corridor Environmental Assessment (EA).

Archaeological fieldwork for the three Nisqually corridor study areas was completed between mid-September and mid-November, 2007. Final historical research and site documentation work was completed between January and April, 2008. Efforts relied on a combination of historical research and pedestrian site survey fieldwork. Work began with background research of the park's archaeological database and park archives (assisted by park curator Brooke Childrey); and with interviews and field inspections with knowledgeable individuals whose vital help is gratefully acknowledged at the conclusion of this report. Our intent was to gather basic historical information regarding use of the corridor; and to identify archaeological remains, related to these uses in each of the three study areas. Gleason and Cheung conducted the pedestrian survey assisted periodically by former park ranger Rick Kirschner. Kirschner, who has been conducting historical archaeological research for the park, helped to relocate previously reported sites.

Archaeological survey involved surface inspection of the entire ground surface of each of the three study areas with surveyors spaced at approximately 20 meter intervals. This work resulted in the identification of a variety of new historic-period archaeological sites, and a number of new features associated with sites that had been documented previously –especially in the Longmire Historic District where remains of the original Longmire hotel and mineral baths had been noted, but only partially recorded. Please note, that with the exception of a culturally peeled cedar tree, all archaeological properties found during the present study relate to early historical activities in the corridor. They highlight changing uses of the landscape and infrastructure developments associated with Mount Rainier National Park (MORA). These sites and site featureswere added to the park's archaeological database during the final work phase in 2008. During that time, we also expanded background research in order to place observed features into more accurate historical context.

The report that follows represents the culmination of combined historical and archaeological work. It presents information for each of the three study areas individually, and somewhat differently, due to variable flood impacts and association with somewhat different historical events affecting each. For each study area, however, we begin with environment, flood history, and historical backgrounds followed by a synopsis of archaeological remains related to that area's history. Historical backgrounds progress from early Native American and/or pre-National Park Service (NPS) history, to more recent 20th century events typically related to development of MORA infrastructure. We hope that the emphasis on history, though general in nature, helps to provide an appreciation for long-term events that have affected the park and the Nisqually Corridor, and provide a frame of references for interpreting the archaeological record of those events.

View Report:
View Report (27.48M)

Suggested Citations:
In Text Citation:
Burtchard and others (2008) or (Burtchard et al., 2008)

References Citation:
Burtchard, G.C., J.Y. Cheung, and E.B. Gleason, 2008, Archaeology and history in the Nisqually Corridor, Sunshine Point, Kautz, and Longmire Historic District: Results of the 2006-2007 flood damage survey: Mount Rainier National Park, 93 p..