Situated in the northwestern part of the United States, the Cascade Range bisects the state of Washington and forms its north-south spine. The natural resources which comprise this impressive range of mountains are diverse, even to the most casual observer. Dense evergreen forests blanket the moist western slopes of the range while open pine forests cover the more arid eastern side. Topographically the Cascades show great relief. High, snow-laden peaks, cirques, and vast snowfields give way to low wooded river valleys formed tens of thousands of years ago by slow-moving glaciers. Today, the Cascade Range between Snoqualmie Pass and the Canadian border, commonly referred to as the North Cascades, contains the largest (519 in number) glacial area in the continental United States. Retreating glaciers scoured bedrock leaving behind lakes, ponds, and tarns now familiar to many backcountry visitors. Dramatic geologic uplifts from an earlier age have exposed older rocks, creating a paradise for field geologists. Diverse flora and fauna systems within this environment--some endangered, some flourishing--create a unique biological laboratory of immense scientific interest. All of these natural resources combine to create and display a region of distinct scenic grandeur in the Pacific Northwest.
Because the northern Cascade Range was considered by many an area of national significance and deemed worthy of preservation for its exceptional resources, a sizable portion of the area was included as a unit of the National Park System. Approximately 684,000 acres of forest lands, alpine environments, and river systems were set aside by an act of Congress on October 2, 1968, as the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. The act provided for the creation of a national park and two national recreation areas (included within the park complex), Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas, in order to preserve majestic mountain scenery, snowfields, glaciers, alpine meadows, and other unique natural features for present and future generations. Equally important, the legislation provided for the conservation of scenic, scientific, historic, and other values which would contribute to the public's enjoyment of these lands (Public Law 90-544).
The park complex sits in the center of two million acres of recreational lands taking in portions of Chelan, Skagit, and Whatcom counties. More than half these lands are designated wilderness; most are under the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service. To the east of the park lies the Pasayten Wilderness, Okanogan, and Wenatchee National Forests; to the south, Glacier Peak Wilderness; and to the west, the sizable Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The northern boundary of the park follows the 49th parallel, the international boundary between the United States and Canada. Abutting the park's northern edge is British Columbia's Skagit Forest and Skagit Valley Recreation Area.
The landscape itself is a sea of spectacular mountain peaks and pinnacles, massifs and ridges, rising abruptly and often christened with names reflecting a rugged, mystical character. The Picket Range in the north, so named for its jagged, picket fence appearance, is comprised of Mt. Terror, Mt. Fury, Mt. Challenger, and Phantom Peak, among others. Overshadowed by Mount Baker but the highest peak within park boundaries, Mount Shuksan stands wrapped in a shroud of seven glaciers. To the south some of the more notable mountains include Pyramid Peak, Dorado Needle, Mt. Torment, and Forbidden Peak. For climbers and mountaineers the choices seem limitless, and enticing.
Within the park there are notable landscape features and forms which give the area distinction. Five major rivers drain this mountain region. Of these five the most prominent is the Skagit, the second largest river in Washington State (after the Columbia). The Skagit River forms in Canada and flows in a southerly direction more than 50 miles before taking a turn to the west toward the Pacific Ocean. Formerly a free-flowing watercourse, the Skagit has been utilized for hydroelectric production since the 1920s, and today must first pass Ross, Diablo, and Gorge Dams, and their associated lakes, before it regains any semblance of a running river. In the northwest section of the park, the Chilliwack River flows north into British Columbia. To the south, the Baker River flows southwesterly from the Picket Range through its backed-up waters (Baker Lake and Lake Shannon), to join the Skagit River downstream. Near the southern boundary of the park the Cascade River winds downstream from the Cascade Pass divide to meet the Skagit River at Marblemount, a quiet nineteenth century hamlet. To the east of Cascade Pass the headwaters of the Stehekin River form and the river flows southeasterly through a U-shaped river valley, eventually emptying into a glacially-carved, fjord-like body of water called Lake Chelan All five of these rivers in turn are fed by scores of smaller creeks and streams, creating an extensive water system which sustains the flora and fauna of the land.
If one studies a state road map one quickly sees that very little of this country can be reached by automobile. Only one road traverses the Cascade Range north of Stevens Pass, Highway 20, also called the North Cascades Highway. This route was not completed 1972 and provides the primary access to and through the park. Although this road is indeed picturesque and has been officially designated a Scenic Vista Highway by the state of Washington and the federal government, only glimpses of the rugged land beyond the road can be seen. As is the case in so many natural areas, one must leave the asphalt behind to gain a better understanding of the resources--both tangible and intangible--the park has to offer.
Indeed, whether this land is physically or visually experienced, one gets the sense that one is in a place which is overwhelmingly wild. Yet this area has a rich human dimension. While man's activities in this harsh landscape have not been nearly as extreme as the natural forces which created this terrain, it is not an absolute wilderness. Congress recognized the human resources in the area by providing legislative protection for . . . historic and other values. . . ," including cultural resources. Over the years, humans have traversed this land and to varying degrees have left behind an imprint of use, adaptation, and change recognizable today. First used by Native Americans, the mountain passes and trails later carried fur traders and trappers. Explorers and surveyors followed and helped open the region to hardy settlers and miners filtering into the mountains to make a life and livelihood for themselves. Over several years land uses other than homesteading and prospecting became possible, and many more came to harvest timber, plant orchards, graze animals, and harness the mountain rivers for production of electricity. In later years as leisure time grew into a national obsession, people approached the North Cascades with a new interest--recreation. Concurrent with nearly all of the above activities was the presence of the federal government acting as the steward of these lands. These are the themes developed in the following report.
The purpose of this study is to collect and present research findings pertaining to the park's historic resources, and evaluate these resources using National Register criteria. Building on Erwin N. Thompson's History: Basic Data, North Cascades National Park (1970), this Historic Resource Study (HRS) expands our understanding of the park by addressing the dozens of extant historic structures and sites and connecting them to themes significant to the park's overall human history.
By no means can this document serve as the definitive history of human activity in the North Cascades. Native Americans, their culture, and activities are not included in the scope of this project. A separate document, a prehistory and ethnography, will cover this subject. The HRS attempts to address Euro-Americans and their activities in the region prior to 1945. Furthermore, although a fair amount of literature exists on the history of the North Cascades, it is not as diverse as one would hope. Primary source material is rare, the bulk of which consists of U.S. Forest Service records (many of which have been destroyed over the years), newspapers, and oral histories. Many of the early inhabitants of the land simply did not (or could not) leave a record of their adventures or daily routines. Secondary source material consists primarily of government documents and colorful but oftentimes inaccurate histories of the area. None trace the human history of the region in a manner which addresses the park's cultural resources. This study seeks to accomplish that to the degree possible.
As new information surfaces and other individuals research repositories not available to the author because of time constraints, these findings will update and enrich everyone's understanding of the park and its rich human history.
The report contains the following five chapters, each reflecting a theme significant in park history: Explorations and Surveys; Early Settlement; Commercial Development; Recreation; and Stewardship of the Public Domain. Each chapter traces thematic patterns or trends from the greater context (outside park boundaries) to specific sites (within park boundaries). For the purposes of this study, use of "the park" should be interpreted to mean the entire NPS complex.
Following each chapter are conclusions and recommendations for all known extant cultural resources related to the particular theme discussed in the chapter. Based on National Register criteria, these recommendations will provide guidance for park managers responsible for preserving the area's significant historic structures and sites.
It is hoped this document can contribute to an understanding of the human history of the North Cascades and provide direction for park staff in interpreting and maintaining the cultural resources of the park.
Last Updated: 2009