Contested Terrain
North Cascades National Park Service Complex: An Administrative History
NPS Logo

Part II -- 1968 to 1978

On October 2, 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill establishing North Cascades National Park, he called it "one of the most beautiful regions on God's earth." Washington State's Senator Henry M. Jackson, the park bill's chief architect who was also present at the White House ceremony, believed that the new complex of wilderness park and recreation areas was the pinnacle of the conservation achievements of the 90th Congress. The North Cascades held "limitless" opportunities for everyone who loved the outdoors. This new parkland, he predicted, "will be the nation's showcase of natural beauty." [1]

The White House ceremony was a fitting occasion for looking forward. After more than a decade of intense political struggle and controversy, a national park had become a reality. Henceforth, Americans could rest assured that this alpine wilderness would be protected. But just what shape this new park would take remained to be seen. The park's legislation, with its accompanying congressional hearings and reports, reflected the compromises necessary to bring this new park into existence and thus held the key to what its management future would entail.

Besides identifying the mission of the park and recreation areas, the legislation prescribed the immediate steps for the park's management. Within two years of the park's creation, the Park Service and Forest Service would produce a plan for the recreational management and development of their adjoining lands in the North Cascades, and during the same period, the Park Service would submit wilderness recommendations for the park, in accordance with the Wilderness Act. The park act also defined the relationship the agency would have with many of its new tenants and special interest groups. For example, it allowed the continuation of historic -- or compatible -- uses in the recreation areas and specified the ways in which the government could purchase private lands, through exchange, donation, or purchase. It also guaranteed that anyone who had a legal contract, lease, permit, or license issued by a federal agency at the time of the park's establishment would be allowed to continue that use until its term expired. Among those who benefited from this were individuals or companies who held patented mining claims, resort operators, and hydroelectric operators like Seattle City Light. Additionally, it granted the Federal Power Commission authority and jurisdiction in the recreation areas, removing the possible threat that the Park Service might interfere with the existing and future operations of hydropower projects. The legislation also protected the rights of Washington State, insuring it full control of Highway 20 as it passed through Ross Lake NRA, as well as assigning it a role in the management of fish and wildlife in the park complex. Although these and other aspects of the park's enabling legislation covered a range of topics, they were general and open to a variety of interpretations. Thus questions of congressional intent would never be far from any management decision.

Expectations for the new area's future, while hopeful, were mixed. Park supporters celebrated the establishment of the new park, yet they also believed that the Park Service would have to prove its commitment to wilderness preservation, particularly in light of some of the development proposals advanced during the congressional hearings. Moreover, for groups like the North Cascades Conservation Council, the park's establishment was a partial victory, and many of its recommendations during the park campaign still needed to be carried out. Legislation for the addition of Mount Baker to the park, for example, appeared in 1969. One of the most important involved the protection of Glacier Peak from mining. John McPhee would capture their struggles in his travels with David Brower, and the book recounting that experience, Encounters with the Archdruid (1971), would become a primer in the wilderness movement. Traditional park visitors, those who came by car and wanted to camp, fish, and hike, for example, would have their own expectations, as would recreationists such as boaters, skiers, and hunters. Private landowners and lease holders, despite legislative provisions, also awaited the new Park Service regime with some degree of apprehension. Similarly, park opponents wondered what the new park and administration would bring to the gateway communities so long dependent on, and accustomed to, national forest management. [2]


Aside from the specific items in the North Cascades Act, one could gain a sense of the parkland's management future in the kind of park area Congress had created. Encompassing some 670,000 acres, the park and recreation areas were conceived of as a park complex. On the one hand, this combination of park and recreation areas would satisfy the diverse interests and conflicts which had characterized the park battle. On the other hand, the concept was of more historic proportions. Few large natural areas became national parks after World War II. By that time, many of the nation's pristine natural wonders had already become parks, and as the bitter fight to create a park in the North Cascades demonstrated, those areas that remained outside of the park system faced great political odds against their conversion into national parks. Moreover, the complex was the first of its kind; one of the central purposes of the two recreation areas abutting North Cascades National Park was to provide accommodations for visitors to the park. In turn, the Park Service would resist pressures to develop visitor facilities in the national park itself. Rather than a traditional park, with roads and lodges and the congestion of automobiles occurring in parks like Yosemite, the agency could manage the new park for its primary purpose of wilderness. [3]

North Cascades National Park's management direction would also reflect the times in which it was created -- a period of rapid expansion and a new environmental awareness in the national park system. North Cascades entered the park system during a period when sixty-nine new areas were added to the system. Only five of these, including North Cascades, were new national parks classified as natural areas. The park system's expansion was the product of Park Service diligence and its long-standing mission to protect and exhibit the best examples of nation's natural and cultural heritage. The system's expansion also benefited from the new public and congressional support for environmental protection and the funding created from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act for the purchase of federal and state parklands.

More importantly, the 1960s marked a turning point for resource management based on ecological principles in the national parks. Mission 66 improvements enabled more visitors to access parks without further damaging their natural environments after years of use. The wilderness movement and outside criticism from groups like the Sierra Club and National Parks Association (today's National Parks and Conservation Association) spurred the Park Service to reevaluate its approach to resource management. Critics like Stanley Cain decried the agency's lack of funding for scientific research and thus the absence of ecological studies to inform its management decisions. As a result, the Park Service and the Department of the Interior began to look seriously at ways to reinvigorate a biological approach to management developed by NPS wildlife biologist George M. Wright and the Wild Life Division in the 1930s. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, who considered environmental degradation among the country's worst problems, initiated several studies to assess the status of ecological management in the national parks, and in turn reoriented Park Service policy in light of the new values embraced by the environmental movement.

The most influential of these studies was the so-called Leopold Report prepared by the Advisory Board on Wildlife Management in National Parks. Appointed by Udall, the advisory board was chaired by A. Starker Leopold, son of ecologist Aldo Leopold, and made up of leaders in fish and wildlife management with impressive credentials. As a primary goal, the report recommended that "the biotic associations within each park be maintained, or where necessary recreated, as nearly as possible in the condition that prevailed when the area was first visited by the white man." Park managers could, if given the necessary support for ecological research, strive to create "a reasonable illusion of primitive America." [4] In other words, the advisory board recommended essentially maintaining, and when possible restoring, "natural park environments to the greatest extent possible." On May 2, 1963, Secretary Udall formally approved the advisory board's recommendations and directed that they become part of Park Service policy. [5]

Other Park Service policies and federal laws arising in the 1960s also pointed to management of the new park for wilderness preservation. In 1964, Secretary Udall approved of Director Hartzog's new park categories of natural, recreational, and historical areas, so that each area would have its own management concept dedicated to the primary purpose of its establishment. Natural areas, then, were to be "managed for the perpetuation and restoration of their natural values," a statement which Udall reiterated with emphasis in 1969. Udall's statement, incorporated into a 1970 handbook on administrative policies, also underscored the importance of wilderness in park management. Initially, the Park Service considered the Wilderness Act of 1964 a distraction from its own preservation mission and moved reluctantly and slowly to designate wilderness areas within national parks and monuments. By this time, however, the agency had developed its own interpretation of the act, including a land classification scheme using the concept of a "wilderness threshold" or staging area on the periphery of wilderness to introduce visitors to the "mood and temper of the wild country" beyond. [6]


During the park's first decade of existence, park officials worked to implement their management vision of the North Cascades as a wilderness park. Managing a new park -- up to this point protected largely in a wilderness state by the Forest Service -- brought opportunities not possible in other park areas. Here was the chance to begin anew, to plan before developing, and to implement ecological principles from the beginning rather than revising older, more tradition-bound policies which had caused environmental damage in older parks.

This section considers how the administration of North Cascades National Park Service Complex evolved from 1968 to 1978. Chapters look at the business of setting up the park's administration and park planning (carrying out legislative mandates), examine visitor use and development issues, and address park concessions. Other chapters examine wilderness recommendations and backcountry management, resource management, the controversy surrounding Seattle City Light and the High Ross Dam affair, and issues surrounding the management of Stehekin.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 14-Apr-1999