We need to enlarge the 'American Alps'

When the North Cascades National Park was created in 1968, key lands were left out for reasons that no longer apply. There's a new push to add to the wildlands.
Crosscut archive image.

The view from Washington Pass, which lies outside the National Park.

When the North Cascades National Park was created in 1968, key lands were left out for reasons that no longer apply. There's a new push to add to the wildlands.

A third of a million acres of new park and wilderness lands could be added to North Cascades National Park if a new citizen-directed campaign kicked off this spring is successful. Washington Pass and Snowy Lakes are two of the better known beauty spots some say should be added to the national park.

The initiative is called the American Alps Legacy Project and is led by a committee of upstarts and veterans, including Patrick Goldsworthy, Polly Dyer, and Phil Zalesky of the North Cascades Conservation Council, or N3C. Goldsworthy, Dyer, and Zalesky helped found the N3C more than 50 years ago and successfully campaigned for North Cascades National Park, established by Congress in 1968. The trio was also instrumental in the designation of Glacier Peak Wilderness by the U.S. Forest Service in 1960, four years before passage of the Wilderness Act.

Goldsworthy, N3C'ꀙs chairman of the board, thinks Congress left too much pristine wildland out of the park back then. It'ꀙs high time those areas were protected, he said. 'ꀜI want future generations to enjoy these places, just like I have,'ꀝ says Goldsworthy who recently turned 90.

On a drive over the North Cascades Highway from Marblemount to Winthrop, some of the best scenery can be viewed between Ross Lake and Washington Pass — a 30-mile stretch of craggy summits, spires, glaciers, alpine meadows, and old-growth forest that was left out of the park in 1968. Zalesky argues, 'ꀜIt'ꀙs a no-brainer that these areas should be added to the national park.'ꀝ Dyer agrees.

Also proposed for park or wilderness designation are portions of the Cascade River and Baker River valleys, and the Golden Horn-Snowy Lakes area — the largest remaining unprotected roadless area in the North Cascades.

The American Alps group would also like to see the boundaries of Ross Lake National Recreation Area adjusted to include more land in the national park. Lines that were drawn in 1968 presumed three major dam projects would be undertaken by Seattle City Light, none of which came to pass.

The term 'ꀜAmerican Alps'ꀝ was a common moniker picked up by the news media in the '50s and '60s to help describe this world-class mountain range. Along Highway 20, a wooden, brown-and-white road sign has stood for years at the west end of Marblemount: 'ꀜEntrance to the American Alps.'ꀝ

The French novelist Jules Verne, in The Begum'ꀙs Fortune (1879), referred to an 'ꀜAmerican Switzerland with its abrupt peaks rising above the clouds, its deep valleys dividing the heights, its aspect at once grand and wild.'ꀝ But Verne'ꀙs dark fiction imagined the area devastated by large-scale mining of coal and iron where 'ꀜdreary roads, black with cinders and coke, wind round the sides of the mountains. . . . Not a bird nor an insect is to be found, and a butterfly has not been seen within the memory of man.'ꀝ

That would be the no-park scenario. 'ꀜFortunately, we got the park before these areas were ruined by too much logging and mining,'ꀝ says Dyer.

David Brower, the Sierra Club'ꀙs first executive director, was a lifelong board member of the N3C. His 1958 30-minute film, Wilderness Alps of Stehekin, was viewed by more than 100,000 Americans and it argued effectively for a new North Cascades National Park. Many were unaware that such a place existed in the lower 48 states.

The N3C met with Senator 'ꀜScoop'ꀝ Jackson in 1967 to ask for his support in getting a national park bill through Congress. Jackson took an immediate interest, and although he was reluctant to fight for everything the N3C wanted, he told Goldsworthy to 'ꀜGet up a parade and I'ꀙll lead it on in.'ꀝ Despite a tumultuous year of war, riots, and assassinations, Jackson got the bill through and President Johnson signed it in the Rose Garden on October 2, 1968.

That was over 40 years ago. It'ꀙs now been 25 years since any wild country in the vicinity of North Cascades National Park was protected by Congress. In 1984 President Ronald Reagan signed the Washington Wilderness Act, which set aside the Mount Baker and Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness Areas west of the park, and the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness to the east. But those areas have been called 'ꀜrock-and-ice'ꀝ wilderness. Advocates say it'ꀙs time to protect more of the ecosystem and watersheds of the North Cascades, not just the prettier stuff above timberline. 'ꀜThe climate crisis demands we protect the older forests,'ꀝ says Zalesky.

The group has issued a map of North Cascades study areas and is asking for public input before releasing a more detailed proposal in the fall. For the map and more information about the campaign, see the organization's website.


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