Between 1982 and 2009, the number of glaciers in the Olympic Mountains shrank by nearly a third. There are approximately 164 glaciers left, and many will cease to exist in our lifetime. While we may not be able to spare glacial ice from the ravages of climate change, we can preserve what the Olympic glaciers mean to us.
The Terminus Glacier Memorial project, made possible with funding from Washington’s National Park Fund and Discover Your Northwest, launched in 2022 with the creation of an Artist-in-Residence program at Olympic National Park.
In its first year, the project coordinated a group of 40 talented volunteer artists and assigned each person to memorialize one of the park’s glaciers through a diverse array of media including poetry, painting, fiber arts, film, embroidery, animation, stained glass, and more.
The art pieces are currently being compiled as “The Terminus: A Glacier Memorial StoryMap,” an online interactive map of the park honoring each glacier, accompanied by glacier information and historical photos.
Their goal? To provide a visual timeline of each glacier’s life and story and draw attention to the impacts of climate change on the park’s ecosystems.
“The Glaciers of the Olympic Mountains are Disappearing. We Memorialized Them in Art.”
By connecting with volunteer artists, park visitors, and students to create expressions in honor of each glacier, the park hopes to ensure their memories will live on. As the glaciers melt away, the works of art will serve as a reminder that they were meaningful, and still are meaningful.
“Glaciers feed the hearts and souls of the down valley habitats,” says Terminus artist Heather A. Wallis Murphy. “I think the general public may not know enough about glaciers, other than their tremendous beauty reflecting an Olympic sunset from Seattle. From the tiny headwater streams emerging with glacial flour, to the tumbling waterfalls mid-slope, to the lowland fishable rivers, on to irrigation for vegetables and fruits in the foothills, and finally with the disbursement of fresh water into the saltwater estuaries… glaciers speak.”
And this is just the beginning. Next year, the park will transition to a ‘vital signs artist residency’ through which artists may explore not only glaciers but other natural resources that are crucial indicators of ecological health, from elk and birds to tidepools and mountain lakes. These residencies will be awarded to one adult and one youth each year.
Through Terminus, the park is not only memorializing the park’s changing glacial landscape but measuring and monitoring the changes in real-time, creating a catalyst for climate change conversation in hopes of coming together to explore meaningful action moving forward.
Get Involved in the Memorial
While the Terminus project will preserve all of these works of art in an online gallery at go.nps.gov/terminus, this summer you’ll have a chance to see the collection in person at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. The gallery show will take place from July 7th to September 3rd, and the artwork will be available to purchase. The Fine Arts Center will be hosting an opening reception on Friday, July 7th, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. The event is open to the public and free to attend, so be sure to stop by for your chance to take in the artwork. You can find event details on the Port Angeles Fine Art Center website here.
Olympic National Park visitors will get to experience the project firsthand, with events allowing visitors to engage with the artists and scientists in the park. The park will host a “Terminus Camp” from August 21–25, 2023, during which 13 of the artists will offer public programs at locations across the park. Hear what inspired them as they formed a relationship with their assigned glacier, producing a work that will memorialize it for eternity.
Also during that week, Dr. Andrew Fountain, Portland State University professor emeritus and author of the seminal paper on the disappearance of the Olympic glaciers, will take part in North Olympic Library System’s Olympic National Park Perspectives series with a science talk. And stay tuned: Olympic National Park will also host a Poetry Night at a location within the park on a yet-to-be-determined date. Details on each of these programs will be shared via the park’s calendar once confirmed.
A closing reception will also be held at the Peninsula College on August 25th, and will include a reading by award-winning poet and writer Rena Priest.
Not able to participate in person this summer? That’s okay: the purpose of this project is to start a conversation about what we can all do to protect the natural resources that can still be saved. Art is just one way we can inspire people – to converse, feel, act. Climate change is impacting Olympic National Park, and both science and art are needed – to not only understand how our world is changing but also to interpret those changes so we can adapt and lessen their impact.
Though it’s challenging, projects like this one are important so we can spread awareness of the ecological reality that our parks and public lands are experiencing.
“Ecology can feel theoretical to many of us if our day-to-day lives seem somewhat removed from nature. That’s where art comes in – it can create a sense of immediacy, of personal connection,” says Eliza Goode, Visual Information Specialist at Olympic National Park. “Terminus is a digital space where all are welcome to join in this important conversation, to co-create along with us and celebrate the natural world we cherish.”
Washington’s National Park Fund is the official philanthropic partner of Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks. We raise money to preserve and protect these three national parks, funding scientific research, youth and family experiences, and projects that will keep them strong and vital now and forever. Learn about the priority projects we support – and how you can make a difference for Washington’s national parks – at wnpf.org. The Artist in Residence program at Olympic National Park is supported by donations. You can give today at www.wnpf.org/artist.