Contested Terrain
North Cascades National Park Service Complex: An Administrative History
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Chapter 8:

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (NRA) presented park managers with problems similar to those in Ross Lake National Recreation Area and the issues surrounding Seattle City Light's operations. They faced the challenge of managing a recreation area where the underlying question was whether or not the protection of natural values should take precedence over existing uses. At the center of Lake Chelan NRA's management, however, was something far different from a hydroelectric project. The focus here was the community of Stehekin, consisting of a vocal group of some ninety year-round residents who have captured the attention and time of Park Service staff.

The Park Service's management of the Stehekin Valley has been complicated by its classification as a national recreation area (many, including agency officials, have contended it should have been a national park) and its accompanying legislation and congressional documents. Equally important in complicating the valley's management has been Stehekin's image and its history as a place removed from the currents of modern America. Popular views of Stehekin suggest that it represents a place where America's pioneer past still exists, and this existence has had, and continues to have, a powerful hold on the imagination. Real or imagined, the frontier lifestyle of a self-sufficient, self-reliant people evokes passionate and often contrary opinions from individuals from all walks of life about how this place should be protected. Given the spirited individualism of residents and the values visitors find in the valley's isolated setting and remarkable scenery, there has been little popular consensus about the area's management, and thus the course taken by the Park Service naturally has been rocky.

One way to think of the Park Service's management issues in Stehekin is to frame them within the paradox that characterizes much of the history of the American West, the paradox of freedom and want. That is, Americans derived their sense of identity, their sense of being unrestrained and free, from the West's landscape of bountiful nature, a landscape where nature seems forever pristine and new and wears a powerfully attractive image. This condition of free land, open spaces, and natural wealth and beauty nurtured the myth of the American West. But at the other end of this state of mind was the fact that westerners came to dominate the natural world through technology, something they believed was a positive force, enabling them to extract minerals, build irrigation systems and dams, cut forests, and make other improvements for profits and livelihoods. The problem, of course, was that one came at the expense of the other; nature, restrained and altered by technology, could not offer a sense of freedom. [1]

This paradox, these opposing dreams, helps to understand the history of Stehekin, a microcosm of the western condition. At the turn of the century, the valley's impressive natural scenery and apparent wealth attracted the area's first miners and homesteaders and others who, more often with a greater margin of failure than success, pursued their visions of prosperity and new beginnings. Moreover, there is another element to this paradox that adds some insight to Stehekin and the Park Service's presence: the role the federal government played in fostering -- and later protecting -- this sense of freedom through the ownership of property. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for example, the federal government distributed the public lands to Americans using a number of land laws. Soon after, however, when land speculation and resource depletion demonstrated the shortcomings of the agrarian ideal, the federal government closed the public domain to settlement. It then began to manage the nation's remaining public lands, with the rise of the conservation, as a kind of national commons -- forest reserves (national forests) and national parks being the most predominant areas. [2]

Federal land management not only regulated the use of the nation's forests and preserved the country's natural wonders, but it also helped maintain the feeling of freedom that westerners, residents of the Stehekin Valley included, derived from owning, and to a large extent, earning their living from their own land. For it was often the case that these lands were nested in, or were close to, federal lands. By protecting and managing the use of national forests surrounding private lands, such as those in Stehekin, the federal government helped perpetuate the ideal of self-reliance. The Forest Service, for example, prevented the wanton exploitation of the forests of the northern Cascades for commercial purposes that could have degraded the quality of life for Stehekin residents. In the meantime, residents were able to use these same forests, in accordance with regulations, for such things as grazing livestock or harvesting timber for their own subsistence. Paradoxically, the sense of freedom and individualism in places like Stehekin was to a large degree dependent upon a federal presence, a presence that has simultaneously engendered a hatred or dislike of the federal government because it represents a threat to the very sense of independence it has helped create. Generally speaking, westerners wanted the services and assistance provided by federal land management agencies, but they chafed at the limits to their liberty posed by the federal government.


In Stehekin, park managers have had to come to terms with the paradox of freedom and want. This has meant striking an impossible balance, it seems, between allowing residents and land owners to maintain their lifestyles unimpeded by the federal government, while at the same time providing them with services and managing the valley in such a way that enables life here to continue much as it always has, one of the main points mandated by Congress in Lake Chelan NRA's enabling legislation. All of this, of course, has had to take into account agency policies, the purpose of Lake Chelan NRA, and the agency's responsibility to the American people. Put simply, the Park Service's management of Stehekin has been complex and contentious, weaving together the typical problems related to management of a national park area and those associated with a community.

During its first decade of administration in Stehekin, the Park Service acted, for the most part, as it did throughout the park complex. It set up its administration, and set out to purchase private lands. It also planned for, and made strides towards, the recreation area's use by improving, constructing, or acquiring facilities for visitor services and park operations. But more than any other place within the North Cascades complex, the agency's activities in the Stehekin Valley have come under closer scrutiny and have raised more criticism.

The main reason for this stemmed from the belief that the Park Service lacked a clear management focus, and that while it made some positive steps, it also contributed to the erosion of the valley's natural values and historic way of life. Thus, as Susan Georgette and Ann Harvey concluded in their examination of the agency's first ten years in Stehekin, the Park Service had managed the new park area poorly. The agency, they asserted, simply did not do enough. It purchased some private lands, nearly half of all that existed, but should have done more to limit growth and new developments once the popularity of the park spread. In ten years, the valley's population tripled and residential development escalated. All of this encroached on the valley's wild charms and came at the expense of its limited natural resources -- wood, gravel, and sand -- which were available to residents under the more permissive policies of a recreation area. [3]

Their arguments had a familiar-sounding ring, for they echoed those levied against the Park Service in its management of Ross Lake NRA during the High Ross affair: the agency simply was not giving equal treatment to the care of the valley's natural values. It seemed more concerned with allocating resources to residents, improving the valley road and visitor facilities, installing (apparently in an insensitive manner with the surrounding scenery) its own structures near the abandoned golf fairways, and providing services to residents, such as free garbage removal. If the valley had lost any of its pioneer qualities and scenic luster, the Park Service, they implied, was the problem. Rather than take a firm stand in the face of conflict and controversy, brought on by locals who bristled at federal regulations, the Park Service instead maintained that its mission -- and thus the recreation area's purpose -- was ambiguous. In this regard, they suggested, the agency hid behind a shield of ambiguity and succumbed to local influence at the expense of the national interest.

Here, then, was yet another management metaphor and paradox: local influence and national interest. By seeking to appease local demands, the Park Service had forsaken the nation's interest in this national park area. One, it seemed, came at the expense of the other. In fact, for most of the recreation area's first decade, the Park Service let its management attention drift with the tides of local influence. In the end, Georgette and Harvey identified what they believed were the central errors in the Park Service's management of Stehekin: the issues of congressional intent and compatible uses. In their interpretation, Congress' intent may not have been explicitly clear in defining the purpose of Lake Chelan NRA, but it was clear in that it intended for the Park Service to define what compatible uses were and then to enforce them. Having done this would have empowered the agency to control incompatible development (such as subdivisions) and population growth in the valley, resist local pressures, and defend park values and the national interest. [4]


Georgette and Harvey present a critical portrayal of the Park Service's first ten years in Stehekin. But they made assumptions about the agency's management mission that were not necessarily borne out by history. Primarily, they believed that the agency should have accorded the Stehekin country the same status as a national park. They failed to appreciate, perhaps because they were too close to their subject in time, that the Park Service's approach to managing recreation areas underwent a marked change between the late 1960s and late 1970s. As the High Ross controversy revealed, recreation areas were treated as the second cousins of parks, with recreational enjoyment taking precedence over protection of the natural environment. The management categories that the Department of the Interior established clearly distinguished between natural areas -- or national parks -- and recreation areas. The former required stricter regulations to preserve their natural conditions; the latter allowed more liberal uses of natural resources, akin to those of a national forest. [5] Certainly, the park campaign, early legislative proposals, and the physical beauty of the Stehekin country suggested otherwise -- even in the minds of some agency officials. But the reality was that it was within a national recreation area and subject to a different set of policies, policies which would not be revised until the late 1970s and early 1980s, as Georgette and Harvey sent their draft to press. [6]

More importantly, most critics ignore or minimize the fact that Stehekin was managed as part of the larger North Cascades complex. It was part of a larger interrelated whole. And thus park managers viewed the area from this perspective as they considered where the valley fit into their overall vision for the wilderness park. That vision appeared in the park's 1970 master plan. The Stehekin country's greatest value, the plan suggested, was its "unique position as a wilderness threshold." It was one of the few and highly valued entryways to the park's wilderness. The agency would also endeavor to retain the valley's "leisurely charm, tranquility, and rustic atmosphere." Ironically, as many learned during the High Ross affair, the wilderness threshold concept often meant visitor developments, and in this case developments which could potentially alter the valley's "away-from-it-all" character. Here then the agency faced a familiar dilemma, the paradoxical management philosophy of preservation and use. [7]

High on the priority list were improvements to the Stehekin Landing where space was limited, and for this reason, planners believed it should be reserved for existing day-use facilities such as "boat-docks, marinas, eating facilities, parking areas for cars, freight and transportation terminals, a store, post office, and visitor information facilities." The landing was the center of the Stehekin community and would be the central contact point for park visitors. In the future, all overnight facilities would be developed away from the landing, with the exception, it seemed, of private developments. Furthermore, the unsurfaced Stehekin Valley Road, what some called "the road to nowhere," would see more use and, on a much smaller scale than Highway 20, would function as the main artery of travel up and down the valley. The plan proposed a public transportation system -- shuttle buses -- that would convey hikers and others to their various destinations along the twenty-five miles of road from the landing to Cottonwood Campground. The plan also envisioned expanding on existing as well as developing new campgrounds, a series of hostels, and trails at popular hiking areas the length of the valley. It also proposed installing food services, a hostel, and a store at Bridge Creek, just north of the recreation area's boundary at the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail. [8]


Ultimately, these plans were meant to transform the area into a national park site. The Park Service and national park patrons had certain standards and expectations, and unimpaired natural scenery was one of them. Along these same lines, agency officials moved quickly to prevent any further filling of the lakeshore near Silver Bay for residential developments, working out an agreement with Chelan County by 1970 based on a recent Washington State Supreme Court decision. This would prevent any further visual scarring and natural degradation of the shoreline that might otherwise mar the scenic experience as visitors arrived at the landing. North Cascades officials also believed that this legal decision granted them another measure of control in this regard; it provided them with jurisdiction over the portion of Lake Chelan lying within the recreation area's boundaries. [9]

Ensuring public access and services at the landing was also crucial to the new park area's operations. By 1970, the Park Service had acquired the valley's three private lodges. In this way, the agency had better control over operations by offering an concessioner a controlled monopoly. It could also remedy the competitive scene at the landing between different businesses when the boat arrived. It was a scene, as one ranger noted, hardly becoming of a national park experience. Around this same time, park officials acquired the landing site itself -- the public docks and boat landing from the Chelan County Port Authority. The agency, however, did not gain control over all forms of access -- such as the privately-owned Chelan Boat Company and float plane operations -- which continued to operate under special use permits, and whose operations were mostly subject to local and state regulations. The final key link in providing for services was the Park Service's acquisition of the valley road from Chelan County by 1970. [10]

With this kind of control in hand, agency managers set out to improve and clean up the valley. One of Superintendent Roger Contor's first management actions was to barge out some of the valley's junked cars rusting by the roadside, out in fields, or on the landing area itself. The car removal program was fairly innocuous, but it symbolized that things in the valley would not stay as they were. High on the list was the "eyesore," according to Superintendent Contor, of the landing area and nearby Purple Point. Besides shipping out old cars and machinery, park officials moved the barge dock north several hundred feet and designated parking areas (for day use and long term) as a way to relieve congestion at the landing. In time, the agency undertook several major improvement projects at the landing -- landscaping the area, renovating the lodges (including turning the Golden West into an interpretive center), and installing a sewage treatment plant and a water system by the late 1970s. Maintaining and improving the unsurfaced valley road was another major undertaking. It involved considerable funding from the park's budget, including the replacement of three bridges, Bridge Creek, Tumwater, and High Bridge, as well as annual repairs and snow plowing. These improvements, among others, illustrated the Park Service's belief that this road, as any national park road, played a critical role in the visitor's experience. Controlling the roadside's scenery, in fact, had been a major motivation in the agency's acquisition of the road itself. [11]

Only here, road ownership also placed the agency in the position of providing a service to the local community and creating another set of expectations separate from those of a park visitor. One example was Company Creek Road, which some residents wanted the Park Service to maintain and plow snow, but the Park Service did not own the road. As a measure of good faith, North Cascades officials agreed to maintain and plow the road to the Chelan Public Utility District's power plant, a distance of some one-and-half miles, and after a legal decision was handed down, the agency formally agreed to maintain this section of the road. [12]

As a general rule, the Park Service's management practices considered the most controversial were those that affected residents. As with other management issues, some of these were inherited from the Forest Service and were provided for under the recreation area's legislation and policies. Section 402(a) of the park act charges the Park Service with the "management, utilization, and disposal of renewable natural resources" and the "continuation of such existing uses" that would be compatible with both public recreation and the conservation of its other values, natural as well as historical. Section 402(b) provides for the disposal of mineral resources as well. Abiding by these legal provisions and honoring inherited practices, the Park Service continued to allow residents to harvest wood and excavate soil, sand, and gravel from its lands within the recreation area. [13]

Again the question of change to both the natural scene and historic scene was raised by these policies, for it seemed that at some point what appeared to be a compatible use would become incompatible. For the most part during this first decade of management, the Park Service made little attempt to regulate, study, or restrict these consumptive uses. (The agency would not undertake any studies until the late 1970s and therefore no strict policy guidelines were implemented until then.) Residents continued to construct foundations, surface roads, or build septic systems with soil, sand, and gravel from public lands, and to heat their homes with wood cut from those same lands, in some cases gathering driftwood from the Stehekin River. Ironically, the Park Service itself was a large consumer of gravel and other materials for its maintenance and construction projects. The valley road was a major reason for the use of gravel. High maintenance costs and gravel consumption, for example, led to the agency paving the road from the landing to the Harlequin Bridge in 1973.

Firewood cutting was regulated to some extent. In 1971, Superintendent Lowell White announced that his staff had drafted an interim firewood management plan for Lake Chelan NRA, which essentially granted permits to residents to cut firewood in designated areas between September 15 and May 15, so as not to interfere with the main visitor season. Approved in 1972, the plan specified how much wood could be taken -- six cords for permanent residents, two for part-time residents -- from dead and fallen trees. Stehekin District Manager George Wagner, however, considered the plan as something that more or less condoned existing uses, and that the agency would have to study it more thoroughly in several years. A host of issues needed to be addressed ranging from rising residential populations to the kind of wood cut. More important, Wagner concluded, firewood cutting in the Stehekin Valley "has a long and controversial history under the previous Forest Service management in the area." And now, the recreation area's legislative history "has left us with the problem." [14]

In the case of firewood use, the question of change hinged on whether or not the service could or would alter past practices. The Forest Service bequeathed a similar "problem" to the Park Service in the form of the Stehekin Airstrip. As early as 1950, the Forest Service had wanted to construct an "air emergency strip" at the head of Lake Chelan to operate fire patrol planes and deploy smokejumpers in the northern Cascades. As an added service, the landing strip could serve as an emergency landing field for any private planes in the vicinity. The agency had nearly completed the job by 1960. Low on funds to finish the airfield, the forest bureau contacted the Washington State Aeronautics Commission seeking assistance in its completion and subsequent operation. After inspecting the airfield and conducting some negotiations with the Forest Service, the commission agreed to the bureau's terms and signed a special use permit to develop and maintain it essentially as an "emergency strip." The "Stehekin State Airport" opened in 1961. [15]

When the Park Service took over from the Forest Service, it wanted to close the airstrip altogether, but discovered that the Aeronautics Commission was a formidable political force, along with local valley residents who wanted it kept open. Contrary to being listed as an emergency airfield, the Stehekin airfield saw a fair amount of public use. Superintendent Roger Contor was the first of several agency officials who tried to close the airfield. During the planning stages for the park and his early negotiations with other state and local government representatives on the North Cascades Task Force, Contor attempted in vain to have the airstrip shutdown -- or at the very least have it listed as a private airport. In making his case, Contor cited the agency's policies against airports in national park areas and the airstrip's hazardous safety conditions. Members of the commission, however, intent on keeping the airstrip open, voiced their protest against closing it, and even suggested expanding the airfield's recreational potential. At best, the Park Service was able to have the airport reclassified as an emergency landing strip (something the commission, it seems, did not fully recognize) and continued to issue a special use permit to the commission for its operation and maintenance. [16]

The agency's positions on other issues, either inherited from the Forest Service or related to the residential population, often seemed intent on taking the course of least resistance and raised more questions than they answered about how the agency would proceed in managing the recreation area. In the early 1970s, for example, the Army Corps of Engineers bulldozed numerous logjams on the lower Stehekin River at the request of private property owners whose lands might have been eroded by spring floods. To be sure, the actions took place on private lands, yet North Cascades officials appeared reluctant to take a stand to protect the river, its wild character, its critical role for wildlife and fish habitat.

Another decision, to provide a free garbage removal system for residents, cast more doubt on what the agency intended. In the late 1970s, Superintendent White approved the service when the local landfill reached its capacity and was closed. Moreover, a change in federal policy, dating to the early 1970s, prohibited the practice of burning out garbage dumps to create more room. Barging out solid waste was an environmentally-conscious decision, one aimed at protecting the valley's natural values and inducing residents to pack their garbage out. Otherwise, they might, as some had, leave it on federal lands or clutter up their lands with it, in the process creating visual eyesores as well as wildlife problems. Some local bears, attracted to garbage, had become "problem" bears and residents were calling for their removal. Garbage disposal was costly to the agency, for it involved the construction of a new building and the purchase of a large compactor. But it may have been costly in other ways, too. The agency seemed more concerned with keeping residents content than enforcing regulations to protect the natural environment or establishing policies for the use of natural resources.


In all of these cases, revising past or existing practices and implementing new ones shadowed the Park Service and cast doubt, as has been argued, on many of its decisions. Above all, however, the greatest source of change was the Park Service's land acquisition program. Everything in Stehekin, especially in these early years of management, revolved around land and liberty. And thus the Park Service's land acquisition policies and practices were at the center of this small universe. Oddly enough, purchasing land seemed to be the activity the agency conducted with the most certainty, though here, too, interpretations of congressional intent varied. Historically, the National Park Service has purchased private lands from within national parks. It was a fact of life that park boundaries often embraced inholdings and that the best way to ensure preservation was to own all of the lands -- mining claims, resorts, homesteads, and the like.

The Park Service's policy of purchasing inholdings -- from willing sellers -- sparked a great deal of controversy and conflict during the movement and hearings to establish North Cascades National Park, for many landowners feared that the agency would use the federal government's powers of condemnation to take their land, and thus they would lose their unique way of life. Some of these fears were unfounded, but others were not. During the 1960s and early 1970s, Congress began to carve more new park areas out of private lands -- such as Cape Cod National Seashore (1961) -- and the service now sought to buy as much private land as possible in accordance with the new area's enabling legislation. As a general rule then, the agency tried to purchase land from all willing sellers (also known as opportunity purchases) in these newly established parklands and then use condemnation to acquire lands needed for park operations and protection. In some cases, as with Cape Cod, Congress made exceptions by allowing hundreds of residents to continue to own and occupy their homes within the area's boundaries. [18]

The North Cascades legislation, with its accompanying documents, mirrored some of these trends and attempted to address the worries Stehekin landowners had over losing their land. First, Congress created a national recreation area rather than a national park to assure the Stehekin community that it would continue to exist. Second, the legislation directed the Secretary of the Interior to purchase lands from willing sellers only, and limited the Park Service's powers of condemnation to those instances where there were incompatible uses, such as high density subdivisions, high rise developments, and logging. At the time of the recreation area's establishment, Park Service Director George Hartzog did not mention the newer land acquisition policies in his testimony before Congress but rather likened Stehekin's policies to those employed at Grand Teton National Park, which had been established in 1950. Hartzog did so perhaps because the two areas were similar in character and western; they contained modest homes, summer homes, ranches, and small eating establishments and lodges, all of which were compatible with the park. [19]

Hartzog's testimony seems to have been the source of the language in the final legislation creating Lake Chelan NRA and was the foundation of the Park Service's land acquisition policies. This language, however, did not mean that Congress did not anticipate an active land acquisition program. To the contrary, it appropriated $3.5 million, an estimate of the fee value of all private lands within the new park complex. Moreover, in planning for the recreation area's management and its land acquisition program, agency officials employed policies for recreation areas that focused and prioritized land acquisition efforts. That is, land acquisition policies for recreation areas, released around the same time as the complex's establishment, stated that the federal government would acquire lands for public use and enjoyment and effective administration of the recreation area, to ensure that the remaining lands provided for the preservation of the area's natural values, and to prevent any uses of private lands from impairing the recreation area's primary purpose. These policies were then translated into three land classification zones: 1) public use and development, 2) preservation and conservation, and 3) private use and development. [20]

In Lake Chelan NRA, as a general rule, the agency would seek to purchase lands outright in fee simple in the first zone, and in the other two zones seek alternative forms of land use controls such as local zoning or scenic easements; however, direct purchase was still an option, especially in the private use zone, to protect the area against incompatible uses and if an owner wished to sell to the Park Service. [21] The agency incorporated these policies into its land acquisition plan (1969) and the park complex's master plan; the former document identified areas high on the list of priorities for purchase and the latter document established the land-use zones. Having done this, the Park Service actively set out to purchase private land. In 1969, it opened a real estate office, run by Keith Watkins, in nearby Wenatchee, the county seat of Chelan County. Five years later, in late 1973, the agency had nearly exhausted the original appropriation for land acquisitions. Of the original $3.5 million, it spent nearly $2.4 million on lands in the Stehekin Valley, taking possession of some 986 acres and leaving some 650 acres in private ownership. It spent approximately $800,000 on land in Ross Lake NRA and North Cascades National Park. Afterwards, with more land to be acquired (some 2,600 acres) but less than $300,000 to work with, the Park Service put the acquisition program on hold. Although Congress increased the park's land acquisition appropriation by $1 million in 1976, this money was earmarked for buying the remaining patented mining claims within the boundaries of the national park. [22]

This original land acquisition program met many of the priorities the service had outlined. One important focus, as mentioned above, was the purchase of lands and developments for visitor services, public access, and park operations. The central concern was the landing area itself -- the boat landing, docks, lodges, and other buildings -- as well as nearby lakeshore properties suitable for public campgrounds and picnic areas. Another priority area was the valley and the acquisition of large tracts of private land that might be subdivided or put to other inappropriate uses. To this end, the agency purchased land near the mouth of the Stehekin River that had been subdivided and slated for intensive residential developments. It also obtained nearly all of the Buckner homestead, approximately 100 acres, which included the historic apple orchard. Still another large tract acquired by the agency was the Peterson property, the 100-acre fairways for a partially completed golf course, which the service converted into park housing and a utility area -- home to the trash compactor building, among others. The final large purchase was several tracts belonging to the Chelan Box Company in the upper valley, comprising some 300 acres. The company planned to log this land, and its acquisition by the Park Service would help the agency ensure the protection of the wild and scenic charms of the upper valley. [23]


In time, the Park Service's management practices -- from snow plowing to land acquisition -- became the subject of intense and acrimonious debate, legal disputes, and an investigation by the General Accounting Office. This state of affairs has been well-documented, for it prompted the Park Service to clarify its management policies in Stehekin, to launch a comprehensive planning effort for the recreation area, and to address a number of changes in the national park system's management philosophy and regulations, including stricter guidelines in the protection of natural values in recreation areas and land acquisition policies. Most of these administrative developments appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as the complex entered its second decade of management, and are the subject of part three of this study.

From the beginning, however, Stehekin's management problems stemmed in part from its isolation. Stehekin's remoteness may have made it a special place for tourists and residents, but it was a quality that impeded management. Communications were slow. There were no phones in the early years or dependable radios, and management decisions came by mail brought by boat. Both superintendents Contor and White encountered these difficulties in their tenures. Community relations played an important role in selling the Park Service's administration to local constituents. Allaying fears of what the new administration would bring, quieting concerns produced by the hard-fought park campaign, and implementing policies and management programs became the daily routine of agency managers in Stehekin. [24]

One approach the agency took early on was to keep the Stehekin community informed about agency activities through a monthly newsletter. The newsletter answered any concerns residents might have expressed to park staff or the superintendent. But what park managers soon learned was that Stehekin, a place where people valued their independence, was a community divided. [25] Achieving consensus on any one matter proved to be nearly impossible, and most management actions received mixed reviews. What added to the problem was the Park Service's own tendency to seek popular approval for its management decisions, something the service had long done since it depended on public approval and federal appropriations for its survival.

At first, North Cascades officials tried to address the community's concerns by urging them to organize, to speak as one voice, it seems. The Park Service dealt with some issues through the Stehekin Property Owners Association (SPOA), which had formed in 1970. Through SPOA residents expressed their discontent with agency policies from parking restrictions at the landing to road maintenance. By the mid-1970s, it was clear that this approach had fallen short of its goal. The newsletter was suspended; community relations were uneasy at best, and not for any one particular reason. [26]

Perhaps the best examples of this condition were Grant McConnell, Guy Imus, and Robert Byrd. McConnell had impressive credentials for critiquing the Park Service's management. He was both a professor of political science and a property owner in Stehekin; he had lived in the valley full-time for several years after World War II, and was one of its most ardent supporters for preservation during the park campaign. Naturally, he welcomed and praised the park complex and the Park Service's presence. The creation of North Cascades ended the threat of logging in the Stehekin Valley and the threat of a road being built into the valley from Highway 20. The Park Service also reduced the threat of new private developments -- a vacation-home boom underway before the park was established -- through its active land acquisition program. To a lesser degree, park managers were working to remove the threat of mining, but here, too, the agency's presence put preservationists more at ease. [27]

Other aspects of the Park Service's presence worried McConnell and even caused him to question the agency's commitment to the protection of the valley's natural systems. The service's decision to keep the valley road open all the way to Cottonwood and its improvements to the road surface itself, especially paving it from the landing to Harlequin Bridge, presented serious threats to the valley's wild and historic character. An improved road invited more cars to travel at higher speeds and portended more improvements -- more widening, cuts and fills -- and thus more encroachments on the wilderness of the North Cascades. McConnell also criticized the agency's decisions not to manage or regulate preexisting practices or what he deemed were incompatible uses. Woodcutting, while a genuine need, should be managed more effectively, particularly to prevent the construction or creation of more roads farther into the valley's forests. The airstrip, on the other hand, should be eliminated altogether, for it was not only unsafe but not used for emergencies but rather fishing trips, among other things. In addition, McConnell thought airplanes were incompatible with the solitude of the valley and surrounding wilderness. But rather than take a stand, the Park Service built a campground of sorts near the airfield to accommodate an existing practice and to prevent unsanitary conditions. [28]

In this regard, McConnell's list went on, noting that the agency was unwilling to oppose unsightly or inappropriate new houses built on private property because the permitting process was Chelan County's responsibility. In McConnell's view, this was simply an excuse to avoid conflict and for irresponsible governmental behavior. At bottom, this was McConnell's main point. The agency's management "problems" in Stehekin might have stemmed from the ambiguities associated with the purpose and management of a recreation area, but these were not trivial matters. In an article for The Wild Cascades, McConnell expanded on this observation.

Most alarmingly they indicate a general passivity in confrontation with threats that cannot be dismissed by simple orders. The lack of power to give such orders on many matters or to compel compliance with the purposes for which the NPS was brought into the area is not a sufficient excuse. Compulsion, far from being the whole of government, is only its last resort. What is essential is clarity of vision and a sense of purpose. [29]

If McConnell thought that the Park Service was not doing enough to assert its authority, others in the valley, like Guy Imus and Robert Byrd, believed it had gone too far. Like many westerners in isolated locations, their main contact with the federal government came in the form of regulations. In one instance, the Park Service attempted to restrict the numbers of horses allowed in the backcountry; other policies sought to place concessions and other services, such as guided horse pack trips, under one operator. All of this smacked of government interference with private enterprise. "They got so many damn regulations," Imus stated in 1973, that "they're gonna drive all us horsemen out of the valley." In other words, the Park Service's traditional way of operating concessions -- placing them under one concessioner -- altered the Stehekin tradition of "small, independent family operations." While one outfitter benefited, others were left to look for new sources of income. The most notable example of this, of course, was the agency's move to place the landing's lodges and restaurant under one operator, Robert Byrd. At first Byrd welcomed the opportunity, but in time he, too, came to resent agency regulations and bureaucratic red tape. [30]

What Byrd and others whose families had lived in the valley for generations objected to overall was the sense that they had become dependent on the National Park Service. That is, their independence was subsidized by this government agency. Many in the valley were tied to the Park Service economically, either directly employed by the agency as laborers, technicians, or other staff members; or they were under contract for construction and maintenance projects, had special use permits to conduct businesses like guided pack trips, or a concession permit to run a business at the landing. What engendered the most criticism was that the Park Service's presence, through its land acquisition program, had increased property values and thus property taxes. Although this was itself a complicated issue, since the county set property values and property taxes, it raised the notion that many had feared before the park was established: the Park Service's long-range goal was to buy all the private land in the valley and remove the residents. Rising land taxes thus alarmed some and led to protests over the Park Service's land acquisition policies in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Ironically, both residents and preservationists, those who generally opposed the Park Service and those who generally favored it, were responsible for the ensuing investigation by the General Accounting Office and demonstrating the need for a comprehensive management plan in the next phase of the parkland's administration.

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Last Updated: 14-Apr-1999