Contested Terrain
North Cascades National Park Service Complex: An Administrative History
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Chapter 13:

In the history of North Cascades, there was an inherent tension between wilderness preservation and traditional national park management. No aspect of the park complex's management revealed this tension more, perhaps, than the agency's attempts to accommodate the average visitor. During the complex's second era of management, agency officials addressed some of the more grandiose plans as well as devised new plans to meet the basic needs of visitors in a large-scale planning effort. The 1988 general management plan, spearheaded by Superintendent John Reynolds, emphasized that the visitor use pattern evident at the park's creation was well established. More than 90 percent of the parkland was considered wilderness, while the remaining non-wilderness sections of the parkland saw more than 90 percent of its visitors. The new plan also revised proposals now considered inappropriate or simply unrealistic in an age of environmental activism, and given the agency's stronger interest in maintaining the integrity of the park's ecological systems. As in the past, the plan focused primarily on the two geographic regions of the complex, the Skagit and Stehekin districts. Essential to the planning effort was the role of the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan national recreation areas as wilderness thresholds, buffer zones to the park wilderness, and the zones set aside to provide visitor services typically found within a national park. In a sense, the new planning effort would expand the wilderness threshold concept to its fullest.

In the Skagit District, one of the most evident visitor use patterns was that most of 800,000 visitors to the North Cascades traveled along Highway 20 and stayed within the highway corridor for the duration of their visit. The challenge was to convey to these visitors and all visitors, Superintendent John Reynolds believed, the meaning and value of North Cascades as a wilderness park, to make them participants in, rather than observers of, this wild landscape. [1]

The general management plan used his idea as its central theme. Certainly, there were other areas of the parkland that drew the agency's attention, especially Stehekin, but Highway 20 symbolized the challenge of managing a park for wilderness while still meeting the needs of everyday visitors. Highway 20 was the wilderness threshold of the Skagit District. Superintendent Reynolds suggested that the highway was "an interpretive and inspirational visitor enjoyment facility." It provided outstanding scenic driving opportunities, as well as access to visitor facilities -- concessions, campgrounds, existing and planned overlooks, waysides, and trails. Moreover, it was the single most important means of communicating "park values to visitors, and will be throughout the park's history." With wilderness as the park's main theme, the highway, like other national park roads, was the central means of conveying this to the motoring public. Indeed, the highway was and would be as close as many would come to experiencing the park's wilderness values. [2]

Interpretation was an integral part of relating to visitors the meaning of North Cascades and thus influenced many of the developments planned and completed along Highway 20. Although addressed in previous management plans, interpretation received a boost in importance from the 1988 general management plan. Besides expanding on the park's interpretive themes of wilderness, natural forces, humans and the environment, the plan stressed the need for a visitor center along the highway within the park complex. The park complex's 1976 interim interpretive prospectus had suggested the need for such a facility in order for visitors to stop and learn about the park landscape through which they were traveling. And the 1988 general management plan made it one of the highest priorities for North Cascades. The visitor center, proposed for an area just west of Newhalem, would provide "an inspirational and informational introduction to the North Cascades," according to the plan, using a film and exhibits to inform visitors about the parkland's wilderness, the role of wilderness in American life, resource issues facing the park, and the full range of opportunities available in the park complex. Park planners realized that what visitors learned at the visitor center, through various forms of media, would perhaps be their closest encounter with North Cascades, their only chance to reflect on its wilderness mission and to appreciate the landscape they could not see themselves beyond the highway corridor.

Park officials believed that the new visitor center would serve several other important functions. One of these was that it would be an "ideal place to interpret Senator Jackson's contributions to the national park system and the people of the United States." In 1987, Congress dedicated North Cascades to Senator Henry M. Jackson's memory, and the law was one of the reasons for spurring on development because it specifically stated that the agency should establish sites to interpret Jackson's contributions to the establishment of North Cascades as well as to "the national park system." The North Cascades visitor center was one of several places in the park complex chosen for recognizing Jackson. Another function of the building was that it would have an education center for providing environmental and resource study programs to "large numbers of schoolchildren and adults from local communities and the Puget Sound region." [3]

In addition to introducing visitors to North Cascades, the visitor center was a key link in the agency's plans for the Highway 20 corridor. Many of these plans had been introduced in the park's 1986 development concept plan for the highway. In that plan, the Park Service pledged its support to continue its cooperation with other agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service and Washington State, "to maintain and enhance" the highway's "scenic and recreational values." Reasons for this stemmed in part from the highway's popularity. In 1984, the portion of highway crossing the Okanogan National Forest was designated the North Cascades Scenic Highway. More specifically, the development concept plan emphasized the development of new and the renovation of existing day activity sites along the highway and at Cascade Pass. The plan called for interpretive waysides to be incorporated with recreational facilities at a number of popular sites, among them the Cascade Pass trailhead, the Copper Creek take-out, the proposed Pickets overlook, the Goodell Creek campground, Newhalem, and the overlooks at Gorge Dam, Gorge Falls, and Happy Flats. [4]

One of the main ideas behind these interpretive waysides was to bring to motoring tourists and other recreationists the story of the North Cascades' natural and cultural history. Each site, in effect, would provide some elements of the story. Cascade Pass was important because there was no place to see the park's most notable features -- the Picket Range and Eldorado Peaks -- from the highway. In this regard, the pass continued to fill this void. Drivers who wanted to hike the relatively short trail to the pass from the end of the road were rewarded with views of the parkland's mountains, glaciers, and subalpine terrain at close range. Similar to past proposals, the agency planned to use a shuttle service to bring people to the trailhead, if the parking lot at the foot of the pass were filled during peak use periods. The popularity of Cascade Pass made it difficult to limit visitor use, though the notion surfaced again during Reynolds' tenure, and thus difficult to prevent damage to the area's sensitive subalpine vegetation. A compromise of sorts was that interpretive waysides at the trailhead would relate information about the natural environment and the revegetation program. Other areas along Highway 20, namely the overlooks at Diablo and Ross lakes, would interpret the spectacular mountain scenery and efforts to protect this country, as well as the history of public power so evident in the landscape of reservoirs, dams, and company towns along the roadway. [5]

Besides developments for interpretation, the Park Service planned to construct activity sites along the highway so visitors could have a variety of experiences with the park's diverse natural resources. Superintendent Reynolds believed this approach was in keeping with what the Park Service's founding fathers, Stephen Mather and Horace Albright, wanted -- to let everyday Americans experience their national parks, to create ties between them and the natural world. The main goal of visitor use was to "encourage and help people enjoy their natural surroundings free from the distractions of mechanized equipment and imposing structures." [6]

Echoing the 1970 master plan, the 1988 plan wanted to get people out of their automobiles and into nature, even in a limited way. The plan contemplated a number of short trails for highway travelers to give them "the opportunity to enjoy and explore the variety and grandeur of the North Cascades." Some of these were a trail to Thunder View and a trail to Happy Falls. An especially important development was the Happy Flats area near the trailhead to Ross Dam. The area encompassed a wide variety of terrain and environments and offered many opportunities for visitors "to explore and better understand the unique east-to-west ecosystem transitions that occur in the North Cascades." The area was within easy walking distance of the highway and demonstrated, according to Reynolds, how roadside activities could be provided in a sensitive manner. As a rule, however, the general management plan shunned new developments; it excluded any new roads, tramways, or other major visitor facilities except the visitor center at Newhalem. In this regard, it finally put to rest many long-standing proposals, such as tramways, which had been shelved indefinitely. Unlike early park complex managers, Reynolds and others of this generation did not feel the same compelling need to provide a high vista for park visitors from Highway 20. Opportunities were available outside the park complex, they believed, primarily on national forest lands, as well as at Cascade Pass. [7]

In addition to day-time uses, the general management plan noted that Ross Lake NRA would continue to provide a "variety of overnight experiences." With the exception of Hozomeen and campsites along Ross Lake, Highway 20 was the central focus. The two concessions, the Diablo Lake and Ross Lake resorts, still served the general public, however with different rates of success. The Diablo Lake Resort had never been a successful operation and it continued to suffer financial losses throughout the 1980s; it changed ownership several times, but a great deal of the resort's success rested upon traffic from Highway 20, which never provided enough income, it seems, in the short summer season when the road was open. After the general management plan was released, the resort failed. By 1990, the resort's most recent owners listed it for sale. At this point, the concession effectively ended. In December 1991, Seattle City Light bought the facility to use for an environmental learning center, as called for in the city's negotiations with the Park Service as part of the relicensing of the Skagit River Project. On the other hand, the Ross Lake Resort, a popular floating fishing resort, continued to expand and enjoy success. [8]

For highway users seeking something more basic, the three campgrounds in the recreation area would continue to meet their needs. Campgrounds for auto tourists had been a great source of contention in the 1970s. Congressman Lloyd Meeds persistently had lobbied the Park Service to increase the drive-in facilities along the Skagit River, especially since development plans for Roland Point had been terminated. By the late 1970s, the Park Service had expanded and improved Colonial Creek and Goodell Creek campgrounds, but it was the Newhalem Creek Campground that provided the greatest increase in camping sites. Listed as the park's top priority for development, Newhalem was opened in 1982. It was thought that after several phases of construction, it would have a capacity of some 450 sites, beginning with an initial phase of some 250 sites. It seems, however, that there were problems with funding and contractors, and when the campground opened there were approximately 120 sites available within five loops. (Later, danger from hazard trees would close several loops.) News of the campground spread slowly. It was located across the river from the highway by way of a single-lane bridge, and it rarely filled. [9]

All three campgrounds offered visitors with "distinctly different camping experiences," noted the general management plan. Goodell, on the highway-side of the Skagit, was and would remain "an intimate, small campground." Newhalem, located across the river from Goodell, was best suited for large numbers of people and diverse kinds of users -- those who wanted a traditional national park car camping experience and those who wanted something similar but with the comforts of home in their motor homes. Newhalem could also be expanded in the future to accommodate more of these types of vehicles, as well as expanded to accommodate a general increase in visitor use. Finally, Colonial Creek would remain a typical park campground for people in tents and recreational vehicles, especially those who wanted to boat on Diablo Lake. [10]

Preserving the park's wilderness character was also evident in the Park Service's plans. The agency expressed interest in studying the Stehekin River and the Skagit River and its tributaries for wild and scenic river status. The agency's plans for water-based recreation also demonstrated this focus. Boating would continue to be a viable form of recreation, but the agency would not go to great lengths to increase its use. In Lake Chelan NRA, the agency planned to move the boat-in campsites at Flick Creek to Four-Mile Creek, a more attractive and protected area. The agency also proposed building up to six more boat-in campsites at Riddle Creek. Yet Park Service officials opposed any expansion or modification of the Stehekin docks for boats or houseboats because these kinds of changes would alter the character of the Stehekin landing.

Although valued for its scenic qualities, Ross Lake differed from Lake Chelan because it was less accessible. In light of the recent High Ross decision, agency leaders decided that they would manage Ross Lake "to retain its character as the only large wild lake in the region, offering excellent opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing." Repeating the ideas of preservation groups, Park Service managers emphasized that the man-made lake had wilderness qualities; it provided a "different kind of recreational opportunity," primarily non-motorized boating and thus greater opportunities for solitude in a wild setting. By preventing new developments such as the long-promoted access road for boat launching and a marina near Ross Dam, park leaders believed they would also help protect "the unique Ross Lake fishery as a naturally reproducing recreational resource." The decision did not necessarily prohibit motorboat use of the lower end of Ross Lake, yet for practical purposes confined the use of powerboats to the northern end of the lake near Hozomeen. Boaters could reach the lake by way of the access road from Hope, British Columbia; most used the lake for fishing. At the lower end of the lake, boaters had several options. None of them was easy. Boaters could carry their canoes or kayaks down a short, steep trail to the lake from Highway 20, rent fishing boats from the Ross Lake Resort, or make arrangements with the Seattle City Light boat to carry their craft up Diablo Lake and then have it hauled up to Ross Lake by the Ross Lake Resort truck. Congressman Meeds' dream of a lake easily accessible from Highway 20 was dead. [11]

For the rest of Ross Lake NRA, the agency proposed only modest improvements. The management plan envisioned few changes for Diablo and Gorge lakes, except for improving launching ramps on both lakes. Hozomeen would retain its status as "a quiet eddy between recreation corridors to the north and south." All management proposals would seek to ensure that it held on to its "feeling of a simpler time and place with fishing as the primary pastime." In this regard, Park Service plans called for keeping the area's facilities "semiprimitive," for boat launching and camping. Most new construction would take place on the Canadian side of the border with a new visitor center, jointly operated by the Park Service and British Columbia Parks; it would serve both visitors to the park complex and the Skagit recreation area in British Columbia. Other plans called for removing the existing amphitheater on the U.S. side because it was poorly located and moving future programs to the vicinity of the new visitor center. In addition, there would be trail construction and improvements as well as the installation of new interpretive waysides in the Hozomeen area. One proposed trail would follow the lakeshore trail linking the visitor center with the lakeside campground; another was a section of trail along the east shore of Ross Lake connecting Hozomeen with Desolation Peak and Lightning Creek.


Environmental groups, with few exceptions, warmly welcomed the Park Service's plans for the Skagit district. The Sierra Club and North Cascades Conservation Council, along with other groups, applauded the park's decision to eliminate ill-conceived proposals for tramways and other kinds of developments for visitors to see the park landscape. While they appreciated the Park Service's intent to keep Hozomeen a "quiet eddy," preservationists asserted that plans for trails and boat services contradicted this idea. They also argued that the agency should consider more extensive restrictions on visitor use at Cascade Pass.

Preservationists reserved, however, some of their most pointed criticism for the new visitor center. In general, they wanted to hold the Park Service to earlier plans, promoted by Superintendent Reynolds, to construct a new visitor center in Marblemount. Reynolds conceived of the idea as a way to better meet the needs of visitors traveling to the park and as a possible way to better facilitate the distribution of backcountry permits and information. The advantage of Marblemount was that it was located on the highway before the road to Cascade Pass, and in this way park managers could greet more visitors. In addition to providing better public service, a visitor center in Marblemount would strengthen the community, and "avoid taking additional lands from the NRA for development, especially in the valuable riparian zone." [12]

These and other comments by preservationists pointed up a larger issue about visitor use at North Cascades: the fact that there was the need at all for a visitor center. Past management statements had emphasized the need for only minor facilities, yet the new general management plan was calling for a major structure as the focal point for North Cascades. Contrary to what critics like the North Cascades Conservation Council contended, the new visitor center was not "conceptually inappropriate" in a park whose natural features lacked a central focus, noted agency officials. To the contrary, the facility visitor center would help give North Cascades a sense of identity. It was a major national park without an entrance station or grand entry arch signaling to visitors their transition into a special landscape. [13]

Besides defending the purpose of the visitor center, park managers defended the site selection for the facility. The North Cascades Conservation Council felt strongly that the visitor center should have been located outside of the park complex, in particular to contact east-bound visitors before they passed the Cascade River Road. The agency's decision irritated council members who saw the bureau returning to its old ways of giving greater priority to tourism development than resource protection.

The Park Service based its decision to locate the visitor center near Newhalem for several reasons. First, the agency determined that contrary to earlier proposals it needed a visitor center within the boundaries of the park complex. Even though an early version of the Washington Park Wilderness Bill contained the authority for purchasing land for a visitor center outside the park boundaries, this language was marked out in the bill's final version. In part, the reason, agency leaders noted, was that it was too expensive to buy land outside the boundaries and there would be no way to control land use around the new facility, jeopardizing the visitor experience should commercial or residential growth expand around the center.

Second, the motivation behind the site selection stemmed in part from the 1987 dedication of the park to Henry Jackson. (The official dedication ceremony took place on September 6, 1988.) The visitor center was part of the first proposal for a Jackson memorial project, which included memorials at new interpretive sites and facilities at the Diablo and Ross Lake overlooks, Happy Flats, and Stehekin. Secretary of the Interior Don Hodel and his staff championed the cause of the visitor center to honor Jackson. Although a career Republican, Hodel believed that Senator Jackson, a Democrat, had deeply influenced his career. He inserted the visitor center into the president's budget request and sold it to Congress. In this context, the ideal place to interpret Jackson's role in the park's creation was within the park itself. [14]

Third, the Washington State Highway Department had long-range plans potentially to reroute Highway 20 around Marblemount, bypassing the proposed visitor center. Fourth, placing the visitor center outside the boundaries would not have served westbound visitors who, by the time they reached Marblemount or another location west of the park, would have missed the opportunity to receive information about the area altogether. And finally, locating the visitor center east of the Cascade River Road would not be the inconvenience it was once thought; most people who used the road were going on day hikes or backcountry trips, and the backcountry center at Marblemount would continue as a contact point for these users. [15]

Park Service officials were also forced to justify their selection of the Newhalem site for environmental reasons. There were concerns that the new facility might adversely affect bald eagles on the Skagit River with an increase in traffic, the possible loss of roosting sites in the site's old growth stands, and the possible construction of a two-lane bridge. Park Service environmental assessments concluded that the new facility and potential developments would not harm salmon spawning activities. The visitor center site was a considerable distance uphill from the river and would not impact salmon spawning. In addition, park studies, drawing on more than a decade of bald eagle surveys, determined that the proposed visitor center location was not a roosting site for bald eagles. [16]

Environmental concerns influenced the Park Service's selection of the Newhalem site in other ways as well. Initially, planners had selected the Goodell Creek Valley for the visitor center. Evidently, the area selected was in the vicinity of what was then known as the Goodell Creek Viewpoint, near today's group campground. (The visitor center team had also considered a site just downstream from the Goodell Creek Campground, on the river side of the highway and a site just west of the Ross Lake overlook.) Agency leaders favored the site because it was large, away from competing interests, easily accessed from the highway, and offered a good view of the Pickets. Upon closer evaluation, they realized that the new facility would be within or dangerously close to the Goodell Creek floodplain and the creek would require significant manipulation to protect the facility. There were also concerns that if Seattle City Light built the Copper Creek Dam, an unlikely prospect, it would essentially make the visitor center "lakeshore property" at full pool and at drawdown make it an overlook of a mudflat. The highway would have to be relocated, affecting access to the site, and more importantly, the relocation of power lines north of the proposed visitor center would invade the view of the Pickets. [17]

The alternative site was a glacial bench behind the Newhalem Campground, and its attributes far outweighed those of Goodell Creek. Newhalem had an excellent view of the Pickets, good access from Highway 20, and it was a large, flat area. Moreover, it was out of the flood plain and would not be threatened by Copper Creek Dam. There were some problems but for the most part were considered minor. The one-lane bridge would need to be replaced eventually by a two-lane bridge to handle larger volumes of visitors. The area was also on a north-facing slope and would receive little light in winter. Finally, the visitor center would be out of the way slightly. The entrance road first took visitors to the campground and then southwest to the new facility. In September 1988, a park planning team surveyed the two sites, and after hearing all the options, Regional Director Charles Odegaard decided to change the location of the visitor center from Goodell Creek to the Newhalem site. [18]


As part of the Henry M. Jackson memorial project, the visitor center and related developments were intended to be completed at a relatively quick pace. The legislation dedicating the park to the late Senator Jackson had strong political support; it authorized the Secretary of the Interior to oversee the memorial project, and Jackson's family, friends, and the foundation established in his name were particularly influential in pressing for the project, aiding in the design, and securing funding. But the Park Service experienced some problems in completing the developments. The trouble mostly stemmed from, it seems, the accelerated rate of design and construction in order to use the available funds in time. There were also cost overruns. Original estimates for the visitor center and adjacent environmental learning center were approximately $4 million; other rough estimates placed the cost of the Stehekin and Diablo sites at $60,000, and the cost of Happy Flats at $450,000. The entire memorial project would cost approximately $4.5 million. By early 1989, the Stehekin and Diablo sites were finished for the most part and within their budgets. The other elements of the memorial project, however, were not as successful. "Additional site and engineering studies," the Park Service reported, showed that Happy Flats would cost nearly $300,000 more than originally estimated, and the visitor center complex nearly $3 million more, "excluding the new bridge," bringing the adjusted estimate to approximately $6.8 million. [19]

When the Park Service began construction of the visitor center in 1990, there was only enough funding for the visitor center building, restroom, parking lot (120 spaces), and general site developments. But there was not enough funding for the design and construction of the exhibits for the visitor center, new bridge, additional parking spaces, environmental learning center, and Happy Flats Overlook. Over time, it seems, North Cascades managers were forced to use park operating funds to complete the visitor center's exhibits, other developments for the new facility, and projects for the Jackson memorial. The one exception was the environmental learning center, which would be funded by Seattle City Light as part of its relicensing agreement with the Park Service, and located at the former Diablo Lake Resort. Even so, the construction of the visitor center itself was plagued with problems; the contractor evidently failed to comply with the appropriate design specifications identified in the contract, and park maintenance personnel had to spend considerable amounts of time overseeing the project and settling disputes. These troubles increased the cost of the visitor center. When it was finally completed in 1993, the building's construction bill hovered near its original estimate of $4 million, without the environmental learning center. A year later, the Park Service settled a claim with the contractor for an additional $2 million for uncompensated work, and paid nearly half a million dollars to replace the visitor center's leaking aluminum roof with a copper roof. [20]

On May 30, 1993, the North Cascades Visitor Center was officially dedicated in a ceremony attended by Park Service leaders, Helen Jackson, Washington State's congressional delegation, and representatives of the Skagit River Tribes. Opening day of the visitor center also featured the debut of the park's slide program, "A Meditation on Wilderness," and even though the facility's displays were incomplete, the program focused visitors on what park managers had long wanted to interpret: the wilderness values of North Cascades. Within several years of the North Cascades Visitor Center's dedication, its popularity grew as news of the facility spread and highway signing was improved. In 1995, more than 73,000 visitors had stopped at the center, an increase of some 80 percent from its first season. Park officials were, as a result, planning the replacement of the Newhalem bridge with a two-lane structure. By this time as well, the center's exhibits were in place, and park managers turned their attention to designing and constructing more trails in the vicinity of the visitor center. Visitors consistently wanted to hike or take a nature walk in the area. Two trails of note emerged from this work. In 1994, park staff completed the Sterling Munro Trail, a boardwalk to a viewpoint of the Pickets, in honor of Henry Jackson's trusted assistant. The following year, the River Loop Trail, a short nature trail from the campground to the river, was completed. [21]

Conveying the park's wilderness message to visitors of diverse backgrounds, who were primarily bound to autos, influenced the agency's planning efforts and the type of facilities it constructed. The visitor center represented one of the tradeoffs necessary to manage the park as a wilderness stronghold yet supply traditional national park services at the same time. The visitor center's location and design particularly suited North Cascades, and complemented information provided to visitors at other satellite offices, where visitors entered the park complex. Among them, the Field's Point facility on Lake Chelan, jointly operated and developed with the U.S. Forest Service, stood out. Dedicated in June 1991, it was a self-service center, with exhibits conceived and designed by the Park Service, providing visitors with information about the history of the country they were passing through, between Field's Point and Stehekin on Lake Chelan. [22] Moreover, the completion of the visitor center at Newhalem was important because it accomplished what park leaders like Superintendent Reynolds had envisioned for North Cascades. It also came at a time when most other proposed developments in the Skagit District awaited, or were in some way connected with, Seattle City Light's relicensing of the Skagit Project, which was not final until 1996.


In the Stehekin District, the general management plan addressed how the Park Service would develop the Stehekin Valley for the visitor experience as well as the agency's administration of the area. Relying on a number of more specific development concept plans, it outlined current and future management actions for visitor information and services, overnight accommodations, and transportation. As with many management proposals for Stehekin, these were controversial, but they tended to be overshadowed by the always factious topics of natural resource use and land protection.

The release of the draft general management plan in 1987 along with the land protection plan for the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (NRA) further intensified the controversy associated with the management of the Stehekin Valley. Valley residents viewed the documents as the agency's attempts to further limit growth and restrict individual rights. Environmental groups thought the plans did not limit growth and protect the area's resources enough, and in 1989, the North Cascades Conservation Council sued the Park Service for not complying with the National Environmental Policy Act; the agency's plans did not take into account the cumulative impacts of their actions. Even though the conservation council's outrage over the Park Service's firewood management program triggered the lawsuit, the legal action brought all of the agency's plans to a halt. In 1991, the parties signed a consent decree, a settlement in which the Park Service agreed to produce a comprehensive environmental impact statement examining the environmental consequences of its plans for land protection, natural resource use and protection, and other management practices in Lake Chelan NRA. [23]

The final general management plan, with accompanying environmental impact statement, was released in June 1995, and fulfilled the Park Service's obligations under the consent decree. The recent plan altered significantly some earlier management proposals for natural resources, such as firewood collection, and clarified the use of sand, rock, and gravel. In another respect, the new document illustrated further that Lake Chelan NRA, with its centerpiece of the Stehekin Valley, was more complicated than the rest of the park complex. It now had its own, multi-volume general management plan to prove it, while the rest of the parkland operated under the slim document produced in 1988. Nevertheless, both the past and recent management plans paid close attention to the area's management for visitor use, and the most consistent theme was that the recreation area served as the gateway to the wilderness park beyond. [24]

Although the idea of the recreation area as a wilderness threshold, valued for its rustic and isolated qualities, was first set down in the complex's original master plan, the new planning efforts revised some earlier proposals now deemed inappropriate for this setting. Gone were the "wilderness threshold hostels" envisioned on the east side of the valley. Gone as well were the hostel-type accommodations, store, and food services clustered around Bridge Creek, and major campground expansion for Cottonwood. Gone also was the emphasis that the landing be strictly a day-use area. More importantly, however, the management plans attempted to answer long-time issues surrounding developments in the Stehekin Valley for visitor use. As in the past, these centered on what was considered appropriate for a national recreation area, and the often debated true meaning of Stehekin.

In general, the development proposals were relatively benign. They demonstrated the Park Service's desire to rectify past problems, such as adding employee housing in appropriate areas, away from the Stehekin River's flood zone and out of other hazardous areas. The agency also would seek to restore the natural conditions of the shoreline at the head of Lake Chelan, institute user fees for solid waste disposal, erect a new maintenance facility near the airstrip, out of the floodplain, and once more remove derelict cars from the valley.

The landing figured prominently in the agency's plans. The idea was to retain the peaceful atmosphere at the head of Lake Chelan, and the vibrant community activities associated with the arrival of the boat (with its cargo of mail and supplies). The emphasis was not on expanding developments for visitor services but on renovating existing facilities and making the operations at the landing more efficient. The intent was to ensure that visitors, many of whom stayed only part of the day, could orient themselves to their surroundings, find information, transportation, food, and lodging so they could experience the recreation area's range of scenic and recreational opportunities. The landing's development concept plan proposed redesigning the area, in part, by improving circulation patterns through the installation of signs and walkways to direct disembarking passengers to the lodge, Golden West visitor center, nearby shops, and existing trails. The plan also noted that there would be improvements to the landing's road system, in particular a one-way section of loop road, better parking, and a reconfiguration of moorage and marina services to accommodate recreational and commercial activities. Lodging facilities would also be upgraded and possibly expanded, and the Purple Point Campground and overflow campground would be retained and improved. Other proposals called for making modest changes to existing structures and the possibility of constructing new buildings.

The Golden West Visitor Center played a key role in the Park Service's vision for the landing. The Golden West Lodge, the visitor center's historic name, would be rehabilitated to serve as both the Park Service's administrative headquarters and visitor center. As a visitor center, the lodge would introduce visitors to the recreation area, informing them of its history and natural surroundings, through a variety of media. The building's rustic character was essential to conveying the historical ambience of the Stehekin Valley as an "outpost community," and therefore would be preserved in its original condition as much as possible. The grounds around the lodge would also be restored to recapture the historic scene from early this century in hopes that visitors would relax and enjoy the view of the lake and mountains.

The Park Service's attention to the historic character of the lodge set the tone for the management of other historic structures. Any renovations or new developments would have to comply with the overall character of the landing during its historic period, according to the 1995 general management plan. Furthermore, agency plans affirmed the importance of preserving the Buckner homestead and orchard, and the integral part the Buckner property played in relating to visitors the valley's history. Much, however, remained to be accomplished in the way of cataloging, maintaining, and using farm equipment and other materials, as well as interpreting the area to the public. Similarly, plans also pointed out the necessity of preserving and rehabilitating the High Bridge Historic District.

In other instances, though, plans for the valley continued to be contentious. One long-standing issue was the Park Service's management of the valley's roads. From the beginning, the agency considered the Stehekin Valley Road as a motor nature trail, an essential means for visitors to see the valley and retreat into the Stehekin country's wild landscape. The 1988 general management plan continued this theme. It stated that the road would be "maintained at its current length, width, and character." In other words, it would be kept open from the landing to its terminus at Cottonwood. The road would gradually progress from a two-lane, paved road from the landing to Harlequin Bridge, to a gravel road from there, until above Bridge Creek where it narrowed and became a primitive road, still safe for vehicles at slow speeds. The idea was to "increase the visitor's perception of penetrating more deeply into wilderness, leaving modern America behind. Because of the narrowness and roughness of the road surface, speeds will be kept very low (between 5 and 25 mph) to allow travelers to relax and study their surroundings. The low speeds will also allow wildlife and horses to safely use the road." [25] As a general rule, there would be no public use of vehicles above High Bridge; only Park Service shuttle buses would be allowed beyond this point.

The Stehekin Valley Road provided a familiar national park experience to most visitors, and at the same time fulfilled the Park Service's desire to impress upon visitors their gradual entrance into a wilderness parkland. But not all parties were in agreement on the subject. Preservation groups continued to object to the agency's decision to keep the entire road open. They argued that the road should end at Park Creek to reduce the cost of maintaining the upper road which washed out on a regular basis. Nature wanted to reclaim the road, and it was time to let it. In this way, the road from Park Creek to Cottonwood would revert to a trail and expand opportunities for visitors to experience wilderness.

The North Cascades Conservation Council, in particular, was outraged over the agency's numerous bank stabilization projects to protect the road and its bridges from sliding into the Stehekin River. The conservation council thus included the Park Service's management of the road in its lawsuit against the agency in 1989. The lawsuit and negotiated settlement forced the Park Service to suspend any significant modifications to the road, until it had produced the necessary environmental studies. Meanwhile, new problems arose that further complicated the situation. In 1990, the Stehekin River flood caused serious damage to sections of the valley road, as well as other park roads, but the flood came at a crucial point in the Park Service's negotiations with the conservation council. And while immediate repairs were allowed, more extensive repairs, especially the washout of the road at 8-Mile, were stymied by the legal action. The conservation council considered repairs to this section of road a significant action because they required substantial amounts of gravel and rock for riprap, the use of other local natural resource, and alteration of the river's course. Thus, the agency delayed the project until well after the consent decree was issued; otherwise it would have risked reaching an out-of-court settlement and violating the consent decree.

Further complicating the issue, Chelan County renewed its attempts to regain ownership of the Stehekin Valley Road. In 1990, the county tried to claim the first nine and half miles, including the disputed section of road at 8-Mile. In June 1993, the Park Service won its lawsuit against the county and retained ownership of the valley road. Afterwards, park managers were able to implement a short-term solution to the erosion problem, by constructing rock barbs along the river bank to deflect and slow the river's current, and by revegetating the river bank to prevent further erosion. [26]

In the 1995 general management plan, the Park Service deviated little from its past management of the valley road. Based on extensive public review, the agency decided to keep the road open to Cottonwood, making the gradual transition from country lane to primitive road. The plan differed slightly from the 1988 general management plan. Rather than limit paving at Harlequin Bridge, the Park Service now intended to pave the road (single lane) to Nine-Mile, evidently to maintain the road surface better and reduce dust over this well-traveled section. From Nine-Mile to High Bridge, the road would remain single-lane and gravel. Besides minor improvements for drainage, road surfacing, and turnouts, the plan noted that private vehicle use beyond High Bridge would be regulated, primarily because of the poor road conditions, and only the public shuttle, hikers, horses, and bicycles would be allowed to use the road above Bridge Creek when the shuttle was in operation. Finally, the agency intended to support its plan for regulating traffic on this upper section of road by maintaining it to accommodate heavy-duty, high clearance vehicles.

In November 1995, several months after the general management plan was approved, the worst recorded flood in Stehekin's history occurred, putting the new plan to a test. The Eight-Mile section of road withstood the flooding, but the upper road did not fare so well. Above Bridge Creek, the road near Carwash Falls was washed out and other sections were damaged; the Stehekin River changed course below Cottonwood and was now running down the roadbed. The flood damage caused the Park Service to close the road between Bridge Creek and Cottonwood. As an interim measure, park managers built a trail over the damaged sections and opened the upper section of road for use as a trail. These recent events stimulated more discussions about closing the upper road and permanently converting it to a trail. The Park Service, however, decided that it would repair the road, citing the general management plan. Such a decision, noted Superintendent William Paleck, was "the product of a thoughtful and deliberate decision making process." The plan guided the agency's decision to repair the road and made it defensible, despite its expense. As outlined in the plan, the agency set out to repair the road to "heavy-duty, high clearance" vehicle standards, first near Carwash Falls. But the agency recognized its limits. It could not reroute the upper road because it was constrained by the wilderness area's boundaries, and thus would wait for the river to change course before it repaired the section of washout near Cottonwood. [27]

The valley road was a magnet for other issues, especially the protection of the Stehekin River in its natural state and the erosion of private property. The new plan nevertheless addressed what the Park Service intended for all roads in the Stehekin Valley. The agency would maintain the Stehekin Valley Road and protect it from erosion only as a final measure. It would also maintain the Company Creek Road in a similar fashion; the road's maintenance had been the subject of some dispute for years between residents and the Park Service. Moreover, the Park Service determined that it would maintain all other public roads as well, such as existing gravel roads to Rainbow Falls, the Buckner Orchard, and the airport. Any materials for major road or bridge improvements would be barged in from downlake, while materials for routine maintenance would come from the valley's gravel pit. The agency would also provide snow removal on the valley road up to Nine-Mile.

A related and controversial subject over the years was how visitors, as well as residents, moved around the valley. Both the 1988 and 1995 general management plans proposed the construction of a new, eleven-mile trail from the landing to High Bridge, parallel to the road, giving hikers and horseback riders views of the river and lake whenever possible. The 1995 plan added some other trails; it recommended a trail system linking key scenic sites and features in the lower valley, and a new trail from the Castle area to the river trail (which connected Weaver Point with Harlequin Bridge). The more recent plan also encouraged the use of bicycles and other forms of nonmotorized transportation on the valley's roads but not on pedestrian trails.

The most popular means of travel in the valley was by automobile, and the shuttle system was the major source of transportation during the summer season. In the late 1970s, the Park Service had taken over the shuttle bus service from a concessioner, believing it could operate the system more efficiently. The shuttle bus was primarily a way for visitors who arrived by boat or by hiking over Cascade Pass to see the Stehekin Valley and reach points of interests, trailheads for backcountry trips, or residential areas. The shuttle service also reduced the amount of traffic on the valley road, enabled the agency to control access above High Bridge, and provided the opportunity for interpretation. At the same time, park managers authorized private tours of the valley, in particular those connected with a resort like the Stehekin Valley Ranch. In the new management plan, agency managers contemplated turning over some or all of the operation of the shuttle bus system to the private sector, apparently in an attempt to reduce costs.

The most contentious transportation issue, however, continued to be the use of the valley airstrip. Environmental groups strongly opposed the continued use of the Stehekin airstrip. According to the North Cascades Conservation Council, the airstrip was "the worst scenic scar in the entire" park complex, and its use had increased throughout the 1980s. The council, along with other preservationists, not only opposed the airstrip as a visual blight on the landscape and the inappropriate invasion of the valley's solitude by small aircraft, but also the maintenance of the clearing -- the trimming of trees and brush in the flight path -- and the invasion of exotic weeds in the landing field. Council members strongly urged the Park Service to cancel the state's permit for use of the field and naturalize the landing strip. Meanwhile, some valley residents, pilots associations, members of the Chelan City Council, and the Washington State Division of Aeronautics (successor to the Aeronautics Commission) voiced their interest in keeping the airstrip open. [28]

Overall, the controversy surrounding use of the airstrip hinged on either side proving its case. The issue came to a head in 1984, the year after a small plane crashed attempting to land killing several people. Afterwards, the field was temporarily closed because of hazardous approach conditions. Moreover, the state's special use permit would expire in 1985 (authorized in 1977), and opponents of the airstrip were renewing their efforts to have it closed. While Park Service leaders agreed to allow minimal maintenance, they contended that the airfield was an emergency airstrip and that it was more a luxury than a necessity in the national recreation area, and it should at some point be closed. The Division of Aeronautics, however, contended the opposite. The airfield was a "state airport" open for public use, and was of vital necessity for emergency landings, search and rescues, as well as recreational use. Closing the airfield was not an option, according to the state. In fact, the airport was one of the "major resources and facilities for protecting the Lake Chelan Recreation Area," noted one state official. There were three general original reasons for the airport and they were still valid for keeping the airfield open. First, the airport was necessary for "rapid air access" aside from the limitations of float planes; second, it was needed as an emergency facility for airplanes in distress; and third, it was valuable because it provided air access for property owners and for those interested in visiting the recreation area. [29]

The issue appeared to be deadlocked. Neither side was willing to budge easily. Rather than issue a long-term special use permit to the state for its operation of the airfield, the Park Service issued a renewable, annual permit, and decided that the propriety of continuing the airstrip would be addressed as part of the park complex's general management plan. Superintendent John Reynolds wanted the airstrip closed. His view of the airstrip, as with past park managers, was that this was an emergency airstrip that was not used for emergencies. Some property owners flew into the valley; others camped by the airfield. Furthermore, the airstrip was "visually inappropriate" and current trends in use of the airfield indicated that traffic would increase for recreational and private use, creating "an intolerable situation for the Service." [30]

But in preparing the 1988 general management plan, Reynolds and other agency officials decided after public review to retain the airstrip but in a limited capacity. The airstrip would be retained "in its present condition as an emergency landing strip unless it is declared unsafe by either the Federal Aviation Committee or the Washington Department of Aeronautics." In addition, the Park Service declared its preference to close the airfield in the future, especially if there were problems with air safety and the valley's airspace became overcrowded, and it was determined that the airfield ran counter to the recreation area's purpose. The agency also would not encourage recreational use of the strip, would not allow clearing limits to be expanded, and would require, under permit, that Washington State maintain the airfield. [31]

By the late 1980s, it appeared that the Park Service and the state had agreed to disagree. The state most likely did not approve of the language in the general management plan which referred to the airstrip as an emergency landing strip, and thus not necessarily available for recreational use. Even so, it agreed to a new special use permit. The 1989 lawsuit filed by the North Cascades Conservation Council forced the Park Service to revisit its decision about keeping the airstrip open. Superintendent Paleck wanted to close the airstrip, but noted that the Park Service had testified during hearings on the Washington Park Wilderness Bill that it would keep the airstrip open as along as the state wanted it. Hence, the language in the 1995 general management plan, while more specific, was similar in content to the early document. The agency's intent was to place the focus on the state, make it accountable and liable for the use of the airstrip and proper maintenance as approved by the Park Service, and ultimately make the state responsible for the airfield's closure.


Visitor services in Stehekin have been a great source of concern for park managers since the complex's creation. Even though park officials liked to play up the "outpost" character of Stehekin, they still felt obligated to provide visitors with a range of services to enhance their experience. The Park Service's goal had changed little over time in this area; it wanted to rely as much as possible on community-based businesses for food, lodging, and other services. In the past, agency leaders had absorbed criticism for unfairly controlling free enterprise with its concession contracts, especially at the landing. The most recent occurred in the mid-1980s when the owner of the Honey Bear Bakery was issued a citation for selling baked goods at the landing when the boat was in. And it was likely that friction between private businesses and licensed concessionaires would continue. Nevertheless, by this time, the Park Service believed that there were a number of adequate services available at the landing and throughout the valley to accommodate visitors, ranging from day trips to overnight stays to extended vacations and backcountry trips.

Most services were clustered at the landing. The North Cascades Lodge was the largest business; it offered cabins, motel rooms, a restaurant, grocery and gift store, marina, fuel, and boat rentals. It also offered bus tours of the lower Stehekin Valley, bicycle rentals, car rentals, and a taxi service. It remained open during the winter season as well, but on a more limited scale. Several other small businesses occupied cabins at the landing and were quite successful. These were the House That Jack Built, a local crafts store opened in the late 1970s; the Stehekin Photo Shop, which opened in 1980, selling cards and camera supplies; and the McGregor Mountain Outdoor Supply, which opened in 1984, offering a range of backpacking equipment and hiking supplies. Up the valley there were several successful businesses located on private land. Two of note were the Honey Bear Bakery and the Stehekin Valley Ranch, which offered guests a restaurant, tent cabins, and a variety of outdoor recreation services, from hunting to horse riding. In addition, visitors to the valley could find overnight accommodations in housekeeping cabins and small bed and breakfasts. There were also float trips offered by one company on the Stehekin River, guided horse trips by another, as well as scenic floatplane flights available at the landing.

The most worrisome business for the Park Service continued to be the North Cascades Lodge. The Park Service owns the facility and leases it under a contract to the concessioner. The business has experienced its share of troubles, leading to poor visitor service and financial losses for the operator, Gary Gibson, who took over from Robert Byrd in 1978. (Shortly thereafter Gibson bought out his partner, Randall Dinwiddie.) Gibson engaged in several business ventures that seemed destined to make the lodge a viable business. In 1983, for example, Gibson and some partners formed Lake Chelan Recreation, Inc. The business then purchased the Lake Chelan Boat Company and consolidated the boat company with Chelan Airways and the North Cascades Lodge. Gibson and his partners renovated the lodge and grounds, with Park Service assistance, and added new services, such as canoe and moped rentals. After considerable promotion of the lodge, the business saw its profits increase by 1983. The lodge's operation, however, was unsteady and conflicts arose between Gibson and Park Service officials. Members of the Stehekin community wanted the concession broken up into several separate businesses. In 1986, the concession was sold to Steve Gibson (Gary's brother) and management was changed, but the lodge was retained as a single operation. [32]

Under new management, the lodge's service improved, but old problems, it seems, continued to plague the business. These problems generally concerned the business's inability to offer reasonably priced services -- meals, grocery items, and rooms -- and maintain the lodge facilities. Some of the problems lay in the fact that business could not turn enough profit. The Park Service may have contributed to this situation because it wanted the lodge to provide winter services, a marginal operation. The agency considered selling the lodge building to solve the problem, but then decided to retain ownership and work with the concession owner to improve his business' efficiency and quality control. Part of the solution called for the Park Service to expand some of the lodging facilities (add more units to the motel or housekeeping cabins) so the concession owner could improve his profit margin. This effort was guided by a development concept plan for the landing and carried through in the most recent general management plan. [33]

In 1994, a new concession owner took over North Cascades Lodge, now known as the North Cascades Stehekin Lodge. The previous owner's contract had expired and it was not renewed. The Park Service anticipated a good working relationship with the new owner, Jack Raines. As part of the concession contract, Raines and his associates made considerable repairs to the lodge buildings as well as renovations and landscaping of the lodge grounds. The owner also hired local residents for his management and staff positions, and provided service year-round. One service offered by the lodge was groomed ski trails and transportation for guests to the trails. To ensure that capital improvements continued, the Park Service and lodge owner collaborated on ways to fund this work using special accounts for franchise and building use fees. (One fee was the marina user fee.) The Park Service also funded some of the projects. The concession, though apparently on better financial footing, faced rising operating costs and set backs from natural forces. [34]


Interpretation. Although interpretation was a key factor in the Park Service's planning and development for visitor use, the park complex's interpretive program was still in its developmental stages in the late 1970s. One of the central park programs in conveying the meaning of the North Cascades' wilderness values to the public, interpretation had yet to fully blossom. Certainly, many aspects of the complex's program were in place, ranging from evening programs to self-guided nature walks. But a number of the facilities -- waysides, overlooks, and a visitor center -- were not yet in place. The early emphasis on Roland Point and the Ruby Mountain tram for interpretation was partly responsible for the lack of developments for interpretation. When these projects were delayed and later canceled, it forced agency managers to redirect their efforts, in particular to Highway 20, and it took time for the new developments to materialize.

Interpretation also suffered somewhat from a general lack of sophistication and organization. An interpretive analysis in 1977 concluded that the park complex's interpreters were enthusiastic and dedicated but short on practical experience and training. The information disseminated to the public was not easy to find at the various information centers outside the park complex, and left the average visitor, it seemed, thinking that the North Cascades complex was a rather bewildering place. Even park staffers expressed these views in passing, intimating that they did not necessarily know what was happening in other parts of the complex. The report concluded that these shortcomings typified the growing pains of a young park and program. To correct these deficiencies, the park administration needed to dedicate more funding and devote more time to interpretation. Above all, the program warranted a chief of interpretation, rather than the current staff specialist, to oversee the program and district operations. [35]

In part, this analysis illustrated the general decline in Park Service interpretation during the 1970s, and by the early 1980s, park managers were making strides to advance the interpretive program. Waysides were installed along Highway 20, in particular at the Diablo Overlook, providing a major turnout and site for visitor education, as well as other locations in the complex, such as at Cascade Pass. Interpreters continued with and added to established activities, including evening programs at Colonial Campground and Golden West Lodge, environmental learning programs for children, talks on the Stehekin shuttle bus, and contact with visitors at information centers. In Stehekin, two new nature trails were developed, the Imus Creek and Rainbow Mist trails; park managers decided against adding a spur trail to the Rainbow Mist Trail because it would have been environmentally damaging. The Park Service also began working with the Stehekin School to interpret the history of Stehekin, and began operating a joint information center with the Forest Service in Chelan. At Hozomeen, the amphitheater was relocated closer to the campgrounds to serve more people. Other activities involved interpreters giving short walks and talks at the Diablo Overlook, the Newhalem Campground, and Cascade Pass.

Besides adding new activities, park managers ended others that were unsuccessful. The most notable was the Concrete Information Center. The information center opened in 1974 with the idea that it would serve not only highway travelers but also visitors traveling the Skagit Steam Railway. (Hence, the center's "depot" design.) To serve the railroad, the information center had been established on the northern side of the highway, making it difficult for motorists heading into the park complex to stop. The railroad, however, only operated for one season and the center's visitation plummeted, leading to its closure in 1985. Its services were then transferred to the Marblemount Ranger Station. At the same time, the Park Service opened a joint information center with the Forest Service at the park headquarters in Sedro Woolley. Located on Highway 20, the headquarters was a popular stopping point for visitors. [36]

The mid-1980s marked a watershed in the development of the park complex's interpretive program. Completed in 1985, a study identified visitor use patterns and behaviors in the park complex. The visitor use study may have offered few surprises to park managers; it suggested that the majority of visitors traveled by car through the complex over Highway 20 and that few ventured far from their cars. The study was important, however, in the planning effort underway for the new general management plan. It helped support the need for further interpretive developments along the highway corridor and the Cascade River Road. Perhaps the most significant event was the formation of a separate division of interpretation during the park complex's administrative reorganization. The new organization, as envisioned by Superintendent Reynolds and his staff, separated resource management and interpretation into their own divisions with division heads. For the first time, interpretation operated out of a division with its own chief, William Laitner, who oversaw the park complex's interpretive programs in the two districts. The program, it seems, was poised to expand to its fullest. [37]

Superintendent Reynolds offered some examples of the ways in which interpretation should grow in his 1985 statement on park management, "North Cascades 20: Direction to the Future." A visitor center along Highway 20 within the park topped the list. He also stressed the importance of improving interpretation through the use of video programs of the northern Cascades, enhancing the quality of the visitor information centers both in content and interpreter skills, creating a wider variety of publications, and expanding visitor education. [38]

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, a period characterized in the park's history by a flurry of planning and development, the park's interpretive program fulfilled many of Reynolds' recommendations. In 1986, the North Cascades Institute formed, modeled after the Yosemite Institute, dedicated to research and education on the North Cascades. The following year, the park's first handbook was published and was popular with visitors. The park complex's newsletter, the "Challenger," first published in 1975, was jointly published with the Forest Service and back in print in 1988 after going unpublished for a time. In 1990, the Mountain School was started through the North Cascades Institute to teach school children about the natural environment, and a year later, the Park Service dedicated the Field's Point Information Center, which it operated with the Forest Service, on Lake Chelan. These different aspects of the park complex's interpretive program demonstrated the varied ways in which the park was growing and conveying the central theme of North Cascades, its wilderness values. [39]

The most significant advance in interpretation -- conveying the wilderness ideal to park visitors -- came with the development of the North Cascades Visitor Center and the Henry M. Jackson Memorial. [40] When the visitor center opened in 1993, the Park Service proudly debuted the center piece of its interpretive program, a sophisticated slide show entitled "A Meditation on Wilderness." In a conceptual sense, the slide show, with its incredible images of the North Cascades environment, provided the element missing from the visit of ordinary people, those for whom planners at one time had envisioned ascending Ruby Mountain by tram. In the slide program, visitors could see the North Cascades and its diverse resources, and carry these images with them as they traveled through the complex. But the slide show's sound track and narration troubled many visitors, for the slide show presented different cultural views of wilderness throughout time. The result was a program that seemed at once to convey traditional Western views of nature and "new age" principles. It expressed ideas of nature from an ecological perspective, emphasizing cycles and renewal, and incorporated spiritual metaphors and insights from Native American cultures, Eastern philosophy, and American nature writers. A steady stream of letters from visitors reached the desk of Superintendent William Paleck and other Park Service leaders, a good many complaining about the "new age" religious overtones. Most visitors who considered themselves Christians were offended by this impression; some took their young children out of the theater before the program ended, and others simply asked for the sound to be turned off. Still others complained directly to the director of the National Park Service and Senator Slade Gorton wondering why tax dollars were being spent on such an unconventional program with its "new age" subliminal message. [41]

Park Service leaders knew from the outset that the show was unconventional. At minimum, the slide show challenged people's assumptions about nature and wilderness. In defense of the slide program, developed by the Harpers Ferry Center with assistance from park staff, Superintendent Paleck emphasized that it was intended to show the diversity of the park, give viewers a glimpse of places they would otherwise never see, relate some of the emotional reactions to wilderness, and convey some of the ideas about nature and wild places held by different cultures. Moreover, the Park Service was not trying to advocate any religion but to prompt people to assess how they thought and felt about wilderness. In short, the slide presentation was intended to suggest that "different people have seen and experienced nature and wilderness in different ways." In fact, the agency had received enough letters complimenting the program from people with different world views to convince it to keep the program operating. Nevertheless, the Park Service developed a video program, "Return to Wildness," and debuted it in 1997. Although the show was for some time, it was offered as an alternative to "A Meditation on Wilderness." For all its emphasis on relating the wilderness values of the North Cascades to park visitors, the Park Service realized that wilderness meant different things to different people, and that there was more than one way to convey the park's meaning as a wilderness preserve to people who would never venture into the backcountry. [42]


Maintenance. Typically, maintenance -- from repairing and constructing backcountry trails and structures to the development of other facilities in frontcountry areas such as campgrounds and bathrooms -- has cast a wide net. Although maintenance is a diverse program, represented in a number of areas of park management, it can best be characterized as a test of endurance: endurance to withstand nature reclaiming roads and trails, and endurance to coordinate a program in the park's imposing geography. Over the years, the pattern of the program has shown a more sophisticated approach to improving the condition of the park's facilities as well as continuing to respond to annual floods and other natural disasters that claim park roads, buildings, and bridges.

In the 1980s, the highlights were as diverse as they were telling of the program's range of involvement in the park's administration. By 1981, for example, park crews had completed the Chilliwack River cable crossing to protect hikers attempting to traverse this wild river. Around this same time, park officials became involved in the controversy over the location of the Pacific Crest Trail through North Cascades. They opposed the routing of the trail from national forest lands -- the Okanogan to the east and the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie to the west -- over Maple Pass. Park managers worried that the trail (and the foot traffic it would attract) would cause too much damage to the area's sensitive subalpine vegetation. In 1982, the issue was resolved when the Pacific Crest Trail Advisory Council agreed to not designate the trail as the mainline of the Pacific Crest Trail but instead as a wayside trail. By the mid-1980s, park maintenance crews were assisting San Juan National Historical Park and Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve with maintenance projects. They were also participating in, or overseeing, the construction of a new trail bridge for Thunder Creek, a new floating boat house for Diablo Lake, replacing the Bridge Creek Bridge on the Stehekin Valley Road, reclaiming the Thornton Creek Road cut, and initiating the first stage of restoration of the Meadow Cabin. [43]

By 1989, park maintenance managers were describing the program as varied and complex. The park contained over 384 miles of trail, two recreation areas, boating facilities, as well as frontcountry and backcountry projects. Coordination could be a "nightmare," one official observed. That year's highlights alone attested to this fact. Park crews completed the construction of a boat-in camp on Ross Lake, constructed a boat launch at Hozomeen, participated in the rehabilitation of backcountry camps, completed the restoration of Meadow Cabin, and built a trail at Ebey's Landing. But managers expressed concerns over the most costly and continuous problems: the flood prone Stehekin, Company Creek, and Cascade Pass roads. By the spring of 1990, floods had claimed a major section of the Cascade River Road and the following November, two floods in Skagit and Chelan counties caused them to be declared disaster areas by the federal government. The park received federal disaster funds for repairing these roads, but the emergency repairs were time consuming and competed with other planned projects, such the reconstruction and relocation of trails in the park's backcountry to comply with wilderness management principles. Maintenance, according to park reports, continued to be a nightmare.

In the early 1990s, however, park reports described the maintenance program differently. It was no longer the nightmare it once had been. A new system of long-range planning was in place. The trails program, for example, had a data base for inventorying and monitoring the conditions of the park's trails and thus prioritizing their maintenance. Overall, the maintenance program was being operated under a system that would, at least in theory, prioritize projects to keep up with the park complex's growth as well as its emergencies. In addition to "routine maintenance," some of the more recent projects included the design and construction of the floating boathouse and ranger station at Ross Dam, repairs to the park's four historic lookouts as well as the rehabilitation of other historic structures, construction of the curatorial facility at Marblemount, and oversight of the completion of the North Cascades Visitor Center. [44]

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Last Updated: 14-Apr-1999