Submitted by: Washington State University

The North Cascades National Park celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018 and a new book from Washington State University Press, Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park, offers the first comprehensive account of its creation—a narrative that involves more than a decade of grassroots activism and political maneuvering. Widely considered the first wilderness national park in the United States, its most scenic and undisturbed areas were preserved without roads or other accommodations, adding to its crown jewel image. The story includes the unprecedented turn of events that left the National Park Service and United States Forest Service—agencies that often had adversarial viewpoints and objectives—working side by side.

The new book comes out just as the park prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Photo Courtesy: Washington State University.

Remote, rugged and spectacularly majestic, with stunning alpine meadows and jagged peaks that soar beyond ten thousand feet, the North Cascades range benefited from geographic isolation that shielded its mountains from extensive resource extraction and development. Efforts to establish a park began as early as 1892, but gained traction after World War II and author Lauren Danner explores major influences leading to its designation. Seattle experienced an influx of young professionals—many of them interested in recreation and opposed to increased logging—who began to pressure government officials. The Forest Service released a controversial proposal for a Glacier Peak wilderness. The environmental movement became more united, organized and sophisticated. Nationally and regionally, people elected executive branches that were friendly to conservation causes.

Actions by President John F. Kennedy, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman, along with Washington State senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson and governor Daniel Evans, ushered in a new era of political cooperation.  The politicians’ environmental concerns produced the 1964 Wilderness Act, a variety of task forces, proposals, debates and hearings, and ultimately, a bill that would permanently protect America’s Alps, the North Cascades. Finally, the book discusses challenges that followed the bill’s passage, such as the threat of copper mining or higher dams on the Skagit, and concludes with an examination of contemporary issues, like the reintroduction of grizzly bears and wolves.

Crown Jewel Wilderness is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 326 pages, and lists for $29.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360 or online at wsupress.wsu.edu. A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

About the Author

Ceremonially reaffirming the state’s investment in the North Cascades Highway, Governor Daniel J. Evans dedicated the road on September 29, 1968. Jeep convoys left from each side of the Cascades and met at Rainy Pass after a jolting ride. The road was not completed until 1972. Photo courtesy: Washington State Archives.

Jersey girl Lauren Danner visited her first national parks as a young teenager, fell in love with the West and moved to Seattle when the University of Washington offered her a graduate fellowship. Continuing on to a doctoral program, she used the North Cascades National Park as a case study for her research about how environmental values change over time. A faculty advisor suggested she write a book about the park, and she made considerable progress until other work beckoned. Her manuscript languished in a drawer. “I’ll get to it,” she thought. “I’ve got time.”

Then she received a devastating diagnosis, followed by a lumpectomy, a mastectomy and months of chemotherapy and radiation. She spent most of 2008 in a chair, utterly exhausted, but the worst part was how cancer treatment affected her brain. She couldn’t read anything more complicated than a murder mystery. Years passed, and although she felt physically better, she remained mentally foggy.

In 2014, excited about taking her own daughter to the national parks, she noticed Robert Righter’s history of Grand Teton National Park on her bookshelf and pulled it out. Three hours later, she was so absorbed she didn’t hear her husband arrive home. The fog had lifted! Soon, he suggested it was time to return to writing her own book. He was right.

Lauren Danner, PhD, is a writer and historian based in Olympia, Washington. She focuses on public lands policy, Pacific Northwest and environmental history, and outdoor recreation. A former college professor, museum director, and Washington State field coordinator for the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, she now writes at laurendanner.com. 


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