New Olympic National Park chief visits Sequim

Since moving here in mid-July from south Florida, new Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin hasn't had any problem adjusting to the area's climate.

"I've also lived in Alaska twice, so this weather is better," Gustin said Tuesday during a reception hosted by the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce and Friends of Olympic National Park.

Gustin, 51, was appointed in April to succeed Bill Laitner, who retired as superintendent in January after four and a-half years.

Now she is busy getting to know the park itself and gateway communities that ring its 922,650 acres.

"There's so many places to visit. I'm trying to get into the front country areas as much as I can," Gustin said.

In addition to last week's event, she attended a similar reception in Port Angeles in August and has another one planned at Lake Quinault this month.

"I'm gradually trying to make my way around the park's gateway communities and get to know people. I want to get to know the park and the people in the community," Gustin said. "The people here are so welcoming. I want to get connected. They really welcomed us. That's really neat," she said.

Gustin also is trying to immerse herself in the Elwha River dams removal and ecosystem restoration project.

"It's huge," she said.

The 108-foot Elwha Dam at 541 Lower Dam Road, about eight miles southwest of Port Angeles, was built in 1913, creating Lake Aldwell. Glines Canyon Dam, 210 feet high and eight miles upriver from Elwha Dam, was built between 1925 and 1927 and created Lake Mills.

The 1992 Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act authorized the removal of the two dams to restore salmon runs. The first phase of construction for the project, which has an estimated total cost of $308 million, began in October 2007 when construction began on the first of two water treatment plants for the city of Port Angeles. Actual dam removal tentatively is scheduled to begin in 2012 and last three years.

Gustin transferred to Olympic National Park after holding the same position at Big Cypress National Preserve in Ochopee, Fla., which is just west of the Everglades. She also was superintendent of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore from 2001-2004 and spent three years as superintendent at War in the Pacific National Historical Park on Guam and American Memorial Park on Saipan.

Gustin also managed the daily operations of the field office for Katmai National Park and Preserve, Aniakchak National Monument and Alagnak Wild River from 1997-1998. Her first superintendent position was at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa in 1994.

Gustin and her husband, Grant, have two children, 15-year-old Keely and 12-year-old Ross. She and her daughter own horses and are avid equestrians. The family lived in Sequim temporarily before finding a permanent home in Port Angeles.

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