The Campaign Begins
The idea of a National Park in the North Cascades dates back to the turn of the 20th century. A formal “Northern Cascades Area Investigation” was made by the Park Service in 1937, but the US Forest Service at that time succeeded in stopping the proposal, in part because it felt it had already lost great timber reserves in the recently designated and enlarged Olympic National Park. World War II turned the nation’s attention away, but in the post-war years many returning veterans (such as our founders Patrick Goldsworthy and Joe Miller) and the general public began to explore the Cascades and saw the virgin timber was being clearcut on a large scale in the approach valleys, marring the landscape. Highways were planned to be built over the remote, quiet, pristine passes, and mining was underway. They decided to take action to defend the North Cascades, but joining groups that already existed had limited effect. Something more was needed here.
Creation of the North Cascades Conservation Council (NCCC) in 1957 was a turning point for conservation in the North Cascades. Our “single purpose” conservation group focused its energies specifically on land conservation and limited its attention to just the North Cascades. NCCC Board members Patrick Goldsworthy, Polly Dyer, David Brower, Philip Zalesky, and Laura Zalesky led the charge, with many friends and colleagues (including national conservation advocates such as Howard Zahniser) providing encouragement and support. Others such as Joe and Margaret Miller and Harvey and Betty Manning joined soon after the founding of NCCC and went on to dedicate their lives to North Cascades preservation, beginning with the country surrounding Glacier Peak, which was under direct attack by the timber industry at the time.
Initially, the Forest Service rejected Washington Congressman Pelly’s 1959 request that the Forest Service conduct a study of the North Cascades for park potential. NCCC mobilized a letter writing campaign and filed petitions with the Forest Service asking for a study. Other conservation organizations provided key support for NCCCs efforts at this point. The Sierra Club, National Parks and Conservation Association, Mountaineers, and Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs all called for the National Park Service and National Forest Service to enter into discussions about Park creation and designated roadless Wilderness, the boundaries of which could not be changed by agency actions.
Conservation allies rallied to the cause when it became apparent that the Forest Service of the 1960s was moving toward “multiple use” as its guiding principle for the North Cascades, meaning vast swaths of ancient forest fell, and conservationists began an all-out campaign to alert the public to what was being lost. Pamphlets, newsletters, books, and films were used to educate residents of Washington State and the nation.
Bills were introduced in the US House and US Senate in the early 1960s directing the Forest Service and the Park Service to assess the North Cascades for park and wilderness potential, one of the first times these two agencies in separate Federal Departments had worked together. The result was The North Cascades Study Report of October 1965.
Meanwhile, conservation advocates were helping draft bills to create the North Cascades National Park. Senator Warren Magnuson, Congressman Lloyd Meeds, and Senator Henry M. Jackson all became champions of the new park. By 1966, a study team had been formed and a report produced. Senator Henry M. Jackson took the lead. A North Cascades National Park Bill was introduced in Congress in 1967.
A Major Victory
On October 2, 1968 the North Cascades National Park was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. The enabling legislation states in section 101, “In order to preserve for the benefit, use, and inspiration of present and future generations certain majestic mountain scenery, snowfields, glaciers, alpine meadows, and other unique features in the North Cascades Mountains of Washington State.”
NCCC has had its hands full since the establishment of North Cascades National Park. The Bill that came out of the North Cascades study team process had park boundaries drafted by Forest Service employees, so many low-elevation ancient forests with market potential were excluded from the Park. NCCC and other conservation advocates were not entirely pleased with the study team results, but were convinced by Senator Jackson that this was the best we could get in the short run, considering the power of the timber industry. Those boundaries remain in place today, and the American Alps Legacy Project is devoted to Park expansion. Other challenges were to resist efforts by advocates of motorized access to build roads branching off of the newly built North Cross-State Highway, roads that would go up the tributaries of the Skagit and along Ross Lake and bring noise and scar the landscape, not to mention the proposals to build aerial tramways.
City Light planned to raise Ross Dam and flood the ancient forests of the Big Beaver Valley, which took years of litigation and international negotiation to stop. Wilderness expansion was realized in 1984, when substantial acreage was added to Glacier Peak Wilderness and new areas including Alpine Lakes, Henry M. Jackson, Noisy-Diobsud, and Norse Peak Wildernesses were added. Most recently, we championed the effort to create Wild Sky Wilderness, and supported limiting motorized access to Reiter Foothills. The challenges to the integrity of the North Cascades ecosystem continue, and NCCC will be there to meet them. Join us!
You can see more selected items from NCCC’s past on our From the Archives page.
You can read a history of NCCC on Historylink.org.
Harvey Manning wrote the complete story of NCCC in his book Wilderness Alps: Conservation and Conflict, which you can order from its page on our Publications menu.