Masses of geologically young raw peaks rear skyward. Immense valleys, U-shaped by glaciers, channel swift-flowing streams. Green-black forests protect mosses and flowers. Blue glaciers strain as they tear at granite rock. A notched log decays slowly as a pioneer's cabin returns to the earth. These are the North Cascades, a wondrous, dynamic parkland.
The National Park complex consists of the North Cascades National Park proper, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.  The Park proper is divided into two separate areas. The northern portion, which leans against the Canadian border, is centered on Mount Shuksan and the Picket Range. The southern unit, which includes Eldorado Peak (a mountain that rises 7,000 feet in less than two miles), Boston Peak, and dozens of other mountains, is separated from the northern one by Ross Lake National Recreation Area. This narrow ribbon includes the Skagit River and seventeen miles of Ross Lake, once a part of the river itself. The southeastern end of the complex is called Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. It encompasses the lower part of the Stehekin River and the upper end of 50-mile long Lake Chelan, the product of a mighty tongue of glacial ice.
The mountains do not stop at the park boundaries. To the west and south lies Mount Baker National Forest whose namesake is the tallest peak in Washington north of Mount Rainier. To the east is the Pasayten Wilderness located in both Mount Baker and Okanogan national forests. South of the park, Glacier Peak Wilderness covers parts of both Mount Baker and Wenatchee National Forests. The United States Forest Service administers all these surrounding lands.
Within the park complex the high country, composed of dozens of wild mountains, glaciers, snow, and delicate plants, and some of the valleys, guarded by tangled growths of poplars and stinging nettles as well as forest giants of cedar and Douglas fir, long defied the advances of man. Even today, it is said, remote corners of the park have yet to feel the boots of modern man. But along the rivers--Skagit, Baker, Chilliwack, Big Beaver, Ruby, Cascade, Stehekin, and more--man came ages ago and has left his slight imprint upon the land. Indians and the late-comers unlocked the secrets of travel through this mighty barrier, captured the energy of its rivers, and conquered its highest peaks. The Skagit no longer runs wild. The mountains have yielded their thin ores. Still, history has made its impression on only a small part of the whole park.
Although advantages would occur if the history of each unit of the park complex appeared separately, the report will develop along the line of themes. For example, mining affected all the areas and the degree of significance of individual sites can best come to light in one general thematic discussion rather than four separate reports on mining activities. Also, some themes, such as Indians and shipping on Lake Chelan, will lead the reader outside the boundaries of the park. The National Park has no Berlin-type walls around it; it is part of the larger environment--the North Cascade Range and the Pacific Northwest.
Finally, some subjects are so interrelated that it will become necessary to mention some sites more than once. However, the specific districts, sites, and structures will each be discussed in detail but once, each under its major theme. Following most of these will appear evaluations and recommendations concerning planning, preservation, and interpretation.
Last Updated: 11-Jun-2008