Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project Home
David Louter - Contested Terrain: North Cascades National Park [...] Administrative History
I reviewed Part I, on the establishment of the park, and a few chapters from Part II, on early administration.
Part I - 1890s to 1968: A Wilderness Park
p. 7: The history of the park's establishment evolved through three periods. The first was the Progressive era, from the 1890s to the 1920s, when the idea for a national park emerged during the conservation movement. The next phase was the Depression and New Deal era when the National Park Service submitted the first formal proposal for a park only to see it crushed by well-organized opposition during the height of controversy revolving around the establishment of Olympic National Park. The final (and ultimately successful) stage came in the aftermath of World War II and the rise of modern environmentalism.
Chapter 1 - Contested Terrain: The Establishment of North Cascades National Park
p. 9: With the excitement surrounding the Klondike strikes in the 1890s, prospectors entered the major drainages of the North Cascades in search of precious metals. Around this same time, homesteaders gradually moved into the range's major watersheds, following the miners. Small settlements, such as Marblemount on the Skagit and Stehekin at the head of Lake Chelan, grew as supply centers for the mines in the mountainous interior. Stehekin achieved popularity as a tourist destination in the 1890s with establishment of steamboat passage on Lake Chelan and construction of the elegant Field Hotel.
p. 10: In 1892, a group of central Washington citizens issued the first proposal for a national park around Lake Chelan. The author discusses the schism between conservation and preservation which emerged during the Progressive era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Gifford Pinchot, the nation's first scientifically trained forester, dismissed aesthetic notions of conservation held by John Muir as sentimental, saying "Wilderness is waste." "Muir's views, after all, reflected the period's antimodern strain of thought; they were romantic, expressed a longing for the passing frontier that, in turn, fostered an appreciation of the nation's remaining wilderness and led to the protection of some of its most wondrous regions." (p. 12)
p. 12: Historian Alfred Runte asserts that the national park idea was born out of "cultural nationalism," the concern that nineteenth-century Americans felt for their country's lack of cultural attainments when compared with those of Europe.
p. 13: Canadian born artist Julian E. Itter proposed that the Lake Chelan country be set aside as a national park in 1906. Chelan residents protested the park proposal as a threat to the local mining industry, despite the face that no large-scale mining operations yet existed.
p. 14: Empowered by the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, President Grover Cleveland established the Washington Forest Reserve on February 22, 1897, covering 3-1/2 million acres. Forests reserves withdrew unclaimed timberlands from the public domain to protect them from indiscriminate logging practices and for watershed protection. In 1905, Gifford Pinchot successfully campaigned to have the forest reserves transferred to the newly created Forest Service.
p. 15: The Spokane Chamber of Commerce promoted Lake Chelan for national park status in 1916. Bills were proposed between 1916 and 1921 to create a national park around the Mt Baker area. Ironically, the National Park Service, created in 1916, opposed these proposals. Based on guidelines developed by Park Service director Stephen T. Mather, Lake Chelan was "just not good enough" and Mt Baker was not suitable because its signature features were considered too similar to those of Mt Rainier National Park.
p. 18: During the 1920s, the Forest Service responded to the encroachment of the Park Service by claiming its niche in wilderness preservation, something that the tourist and development oriented Park Service seemed to overlook. The agency was influenced by the wilderness ideas of Aldo Leopold, Arthur Carhart and Robert Marshall. The Forest Service deflected three park proposals in 1926, involving Lake Chelan, Mt Baker and Glacier Peak, through its new emphasis on managing for recreation. In 1931, the Forest Service recommended the establishment of a Glacier Peak-Cascade Recreation Area (233,000 acres) encompassing the peak mostly above timberline. That same year it established the Whatcom Primitive Area (172,800 acres) which was enlarged and renamed the North Cascades Primitive Area (801,000 acres) in 1935. The L-20 Regulation, which created primitive areas, continued to allow road building, grazing, and logging. "The Forest Service, it seemed, was more concerned with wilderness preservation as a way to appease preservationists and fend off Park Service land grabs than as a standard management practice."
p. 20: In 1937, the Park Service studied a park in the North Cascades for the first time. A five-member study team lead by Major Owen A. Tomlinson, superintendent of Mt Rainier National Park, recommended that a national park be established encompassing the length of the range with tentative boundaries covering 5,000 square miles. "Ice Peaks" would be a kind of super park, the team asserted, that "will outrank in its scenic, recreational, and wildlife values, any existing national park and any other possibility for such a park within the United States." The proposal was opposed by business interests and local communities and by the Forest Service, whose recreation and lands chief, Robert Marshall, proposed creating a wilderness area instead. Marshall gained some success in 1938 when the Secretary of Agriculture approved the Glacier Peak Recreation Area (275,200 acres) but his larger vision, a 794,440-acre wilderness extending from Stevens Pass to the North Cascades Primitive Area, was never officially approved. The Forest Service and Park Service could not agree, and the Washington State Planning Council weighed in against creation of a new park. With the nation's entrance into World War II, the Ice Peaks proposal faded from sight. In the 1940s, the Forest Service relaxed the wilderness classification for much of the North Cascades and in 1946, set aside a more modest area of 325,000 acres, the Glacier Peak Limited Area (p. 26).
p. 27: "In the years after World War II, the northern Cascades seemed far removed from the pressures affecting the nation's wild lands, the congestion of its cities, and the explosion of highway construction and car ownership." This changed in the 1950s, as the Forest Service began to reevaluate national forests to meet the demands of the postwar housing boom and the pressures of a rising population. In 1957, the agency proposed a 434,000-acre wilderness area around Glacier Peak which, though larger than the limited area, excluded the Stehekin-Cascade Pass region and called for roads up many of the forested river valleys (p. 30). The Forest Service proposed timber sales in the Stehekin Valley and Agnes Creek and a road down Bridge Creek to Stehekin once the north cross-state highway was constructed (p. 29).
The Sierra Club responded to Forest Service proposals for Glacier Peak by mounting a publicity campaign to raise the issue to a national level (p. 30). David Brower produced a short color film, "Wilderness Alps of Stehekin," in 1958, and the Glacier Peak issue received national press coverage. In 1959, the Forest Service released a revised proposal for a 422,925-acre wilderness with deeper indentations into the "wilderness core" to extend roads farther up the Suiattle, Chiwawa, and Railroad Creek valleys. The new boundaries incised the wilderness area from east and west, giving it the appearance of a starfish. A flood of nearly one thousand letters protesting the plan apparently influenced Agriculture Secretary Ezra T. Benson. On September 6, 1960, he approved a 458,505-acre Glacier Peak Wilderness Area that added Agnes Creek and the Suiattle River corridor to the final wilderness boundaries.
p. 32: The final Glacier Peak Wilderness decision did little to assuage conservationists. Instead it cemented their determination to push for a national park in the North Cascades to preserve all of the range earlier proposed by Robert Marshall for wilderness. Grant McConnell argued that the Park Service could provide the kind of permanent protection for the region that the Forest Service could not. Conservationists quoted repeatedly from the 1937 Ice Peaks report to support their cause. "Ironically, they were trying to protect the wilderness Bob Marshall had wanted to save using the same Park Service study he had opposed. Only now, it seemed, Marshall's agency had abandoned his ideals and it was left to the Park Service and the creation of a national park to realize his vision."
In the early 1960s, the Forest Service resisted studying the North Cascades for a potential park and released plans that would have logged much of the range's spectacular scenery (p. 37). At the same time, ecology was emerging as a household word, thanks to Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, published in 1962. In 1963, under the Kennedy administration, the Forest Service and Park Service agreed to settle many long-standing jurisdictional disputes (in what was informally known as the "Treaty of the Potomac") and embarked on a joint study of whether the North Cascades merited national park status. While the study team was working, the North Cascades Conservation Council, the lead group in the park campaign, submitted its "Prospectus for a North Cascades National Park" (p. 39). After much disagreement within the study team, its final report was released to the public on January 6, 1966 (ncst-1965). It recommended a 698,000-acre park extending from the Canadian border to Lake Chelan, including Ross and Diablo Lakes and the Stehekin Valley, but excluding Mt Baker. Shortly before the North Cascades study team's report was released, the Sierra Club published (in 1965) The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland, an Exhibit Format book which helped make the North Cascades a national issue (p. 44).
p. 45: Washington Senator Henry M. Jackson became a key figure in the political struggle to create a North Cascades park. He held public hearings in Seattle on the study team's report in February 1966. Governor Daniel J. Evans expressed doubts about the study team's park recommendations and created his own study committee, which recommended a 1.8 million acre North Cascades National Recreation Area and a small national park in the Picket Range. Senator Jackson obtained President Lyndon B. Johnson's endorsement of the park and in March 1967, along with Senator Warren Magnuson, introduced the administration's park bill, based on the North Cascades study team's report. The bill proposed a two-unit national park, a Ross Lake National Recreation Area, additions to the Glacier Peak Wilderness, and conversion of the North Cascades Primitive Area east of Ross Lake into a new Pasayten Wilderness Area (p. 47). Hearings on the bill were held in April and May 1967. Hundreds of individuals testified and over a thousand submitted letters and petitions for the record. Harvey Manning, author of The Wild Cascades, apologized to future generations in the year 2000 for not saving enough of the land in the North Cascades that "needed and deserved protection." The author describes compromises that followed, including a call for a joint study of ski lifts near the edge of the national park, within the recreation areas, or in adjacent national forest land (p. 53).
In November, 1967, Senator Jackson introduced the amended bill to the full Senate (p. 54). On April 19-20, 1968, Representative Wayne Aspinall, who had gained a reputation as the "most obdurate foe" of the Wilderness Act, held hearings of his House subcommittee in Seattle. More than eight hundred people requested to testify. Overwhelmed by the turnout, Aspinall remarked that he had "never seen anything like it." Who were all these people, he wondered. "Are they hippies or part of a Seattle drive to get out into the country?" Governor Daniel Evans provided crucial support for the Senate bill. After more congressional maneuverings, both the House and Senate passed the revised bill and President Johnson signed it on October 2, 1968.
Part II - 1968 to 1978: The Making of a New Park
p. 59: The North Cascades Act created a park complex including a two-unit North Cascades National Park (505,000 acres), Ross Lake National Recreation Area (105,000 acres), and Lake Chelan Recreation Area (62,000 acres). The act also created the Pasayten Wilderness (520,000 acres) and added 10,000 acres to the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Altogether the act set aside 1.2 million acres of wild alpine country. Groups like the North Cascades Conservation Council considered the act a partial victory. The author discusses Park Service trends in the 1960s that pointed to management of the new park for wilderness preservation.
Chapter 2 - Administration
p. 66: The master plan for North Cascades National Park complex was completed in 1970. "Ironically, the new park complex, despite its wilderness mission, derived its uniqueness from its close relationship with 'major urban and industrial centers,' a situation that 'exists nowhere else in the United States.'" Most of the park complex (516,000 acres in the two park units and a much smaller amount in the recreation areas) was recommended as wilderness.
p. 69: The park boundaries had omitted the Granite Creek section of Highway 20 to satisfy the Forest Service and the ski industry lobby. The joint management plan released by the Park Service and Forest Service in 1974 contained no recommendations for ski area developments. The only ski area option identified within the park complex during the joint planning process was Ruby Mountain, but team members ruled it out because its slopes were too steep. The Forest Service's winter sports study expressed little optimism about developing ski areas in the future. Of thirteen sites studied on national forest land, the agency concluded that only one, Sandy Butte near Winthrop, possessed the "necessary physical characteristics for ski development."
Chapter 3 - Visitor Use and Development
p. 71: By the time the North Cascades park was established, Park Service officials and a large sector of the public had concluded that the answer to overcrowded parks and imperiled natural resources was not the development of more roads and parking lots but limitations on, or alternative forms of, visitor access. The master plan proposed a road into the Nooksack Cirque to bring motorists within sight of its glaciers (p. 72). Initial plans also called for building four aerial trams at Price Lake (on Mt Shuksan), Arctic Creek (near Mt Prophet), Colonial Peak, and Ruby Mountain. The final plan included only Arctic Creek and Ruby Mountain, with the latter receiving greatest emphasis, since its terminal along Highway 20 would be the most developed site in the complex. Trams were conceived as a substitute for automobile access and were to be unobtrusively located.
Joseph L. Sax wrote, "To make wilderness areas more accessible by installing roads there would put the visitor in the wilderness without exposing him to it, and would also intrude upon others' opportunities to experience challenging wild areas." The North Cascades Conservation Council was willing to accept the Ruby Mountain tram because it lay entirely inside the Ross Lake NRA. Ira Spring and James Whittaker favored other trams, demonstrating that conservationists were not of one mind regarding tramways and access. Park Service managers were concerned that once a tramway was built on Ruby Mountain, skiers would pressure the agency to develop a ski area there. Delays due to the projected high cost eventually killed the Ruby Mountain tram proposal.
p. 80: The planning task force reached an agreement with Okanogan and Skagit county commissioners to limit commercial development along the Highway 20 corridor near the entrances to the park complex "to avoid creating another West Yellowstone or Estes Park" in gateway towns like Winthrop and Marblemount.
p. 82: The park's first master plan proposed closing the Cascade River road to public traffic at Mineral Park, with shuttle busses running from there to the Valuemine (Boston Basin) access road. Visitors would walk 0.7 miles from there to the parking area end of the road, which would be converted into a small campground. Public opposition killed this idea.
p. 84: The Park Service decided to keep the entire Stehekin River road open to Cottonwood camp. The North Cascades Conservation Council favored closing the road above Bridge Creek to "restore the wildness of the upper valley." When the agency paved the road from the Stehekin landing to Harlequin Bridge in 1973, Grant McConnell and others felt that it changed the character of the Stehekin Valley.
Return to the Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project home page