The state calls this Howard Lake, but the feds still call it Coon, likely a racial slur.
The National Park Service, responding to pressure to rectify an historical wrong, announced Thursday that it is recommending that the federal government finally follow the state of Washington’s lead in changing the racially offensive name of a Chelan County lake and creek.
The Park Service now wants to change "Coon Lake" and "Coon Creek" to "Howard Lake" and "Howard Creek."
The Park Service is acting in the wake of a series of articles (here and here) on Crosscut this fall, and public pressure to make the change.
The name “Coon” is most likely a racial reference to a black prospector who worked in the area in the late 19th-century named Wilson Howard. But, in 2009 the Park Service blocked the name change with the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. The lake and creek are in the Chelan National Recreation Area, overseen by the Park Service’s North Cascades office.
In a press release, Karen Taylor-Goodrich, current superintendent of North Cascades National Park Complex, admitted that the Park Service’s earlier objection to the change was flawed. “We recognize that our previous decision on this issue overlooked relevant information, and would like to offer our thanks to the citizens who researched and pursued this issue. It is our opinion now that recognizing Mr. Howard for his role in the development of the Stehekin Valley by renaming the lake and creek in his honor is entirely appropriate.”
The key citizen who first brought the entire matter to public attention nearly a decade ago is south Seattle activist Jonathan Rosenblum who has family ties to the Stehekin Valley area where the lake and creek are located. He heard oral histories connecting the name Coon with prospector Howard, and after diligent work persuaded the Washington State’s Board of Geographic Names to agree — unanimously — to re-designate the lake and creek. The feds, which own the land, refused to go along. A Park Service report said there was no proof the name was intended to be offensive, even if named in reference to Howard’s race, and that Howard’s connection to the area was not firmly established.