One Square Inch of Silence (OSI) is located 3.2 miles from the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor’s Center above Mt. Tom Creek Meadows in Olympic National Park. Hiking time from the trailhead is approximately two hours along a gentle path lined by ancient trees and ferns. The exact location is marked by a small red-colored stone placed on top of a moss-covered log, as shown in the image above. (Download directions)
In 2005, OSI was heralded as a naturally silent national treasure by acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, one of the Founding Members of Quiet Parks International, who deemed it the least noise-polluted spot in the lower 48 states.
Blessed with exceptional natural and sonic beauty, Olympic National Park is a designated Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Park. It contains the largest and best example of virgin temperate rain forest in the western hemisphere, the largest intact stand of coniferous forest in the contiguous 48 states, and the largest truly wild herd of Roosevelt elk. It features 57 miles of spectacular coastline (the largest section of undeveloped coast in the lower 48 states) and numerous offshore islands; heavily forested mountain slopes; alpine parklands and jagged glacier-capped mountains that rise nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. Some 200 inches of precipitation falls annually on some of the higher peaks.
The park contains one of the most pristine ecosystems in the contiguous United States. It’s home to more than 1,200 plants, some 300 species of birds and more than70 species of mammals. At least eight species of plants and 18 species of animals are found only on the Olympic Peninsula--and nowhere else in the world. Twelve major rivers and 200 smaller streams provide a rich habitat for fish and other aquatic creatures.
Natural quiet is a recognized natural resource by the National Park Service to be managed and protected, unimpaired, for future generations. But lacking jurisdiction over airspace, the NPS has been unable to fulfill its mandate, especially as air traffic has tripled over the last 20 years. In 2007, Hempton lobbied federal officials in Washington DC to create legislation that would forever protect the Olympic National Park’s pristine sonic wonders by designating a 20-mile radius no-flight zone from the summit of Mt. Dana. If passed, this measure would prohibit all aircraft (except for emergency rescue flights) from entering the 1,256 square mile airspace and would return natural quiet to this acoustic amphitheater in Olympic National Park for its indigenous animals and human visitors. Legislators asked for a show of public support before taking action. Despite considerable national and international media coverage, One Square Inch of Silence still lacks the necessary protective legislation to ensure it truly lives up to its name.
Meanwhile, air traffic over Olympic Park has increased dramatically due to SeaTac expansion to accommodate more passengers travelling to and from Asia. Whereas noise-free intervals (time between flights) used to last several hours, jet engines now shatter the quiet every 20 minutes or so. In addition, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island now routinely uses the airspace over Olympic Park for its aptly named, EA-18G Growler jets, which formerly trained over Idaho. The 80-jet squadron will soon increase to more than 100 planes.
When assigning flight paths, why doesn’t the FAA consider the National Parks that lie below? Why don’t our park managers get a say in rerouting some of those flights? Why do Navy jets regularly roar over the quietest place in America? Why do legislators turn a deaf ear to the crucial importance of preserving such an endangered national resource as natural quiet?
Still seeking answers to these questions, 18 years on, the OSI board of directors recently asked, “So where do we go from here?” The answer: stay the course, but by new means. The mission of preserving endangered quiet places would stay the same, but go from national to international in scope, and OSI would go from a non-profit to a for-profit entity.
We will continue to speak up for silence, having learned that Quiet has a voice. It whispers to us in the absence of man-made noise in pristine natural cathedrals when, in heartfelt moments, we are still enough to listen.