Washington National Park Expansion Proposed

The North Cascades National Park, which runs along the Cascade Range from the Canadian border south to just east of Darrington, could expand next year if a proposal is accepted and passed by Congress.

The American Alps Legacy Project, a committee of representatives from various conservation organizations, is leading the efforts to expand the park by an additional 237,702 acres, reports Western Front.

North Cascades National Park contains over 300 glaciers in a spectacular mountain wilderness. (Credit: dphershman/jazzhostels.com)

The American Alps Legacy Project is seeking expansion because the North Cascades National Park has one of the lowest national parks visitor counts in the United States. It averaged only 21,811 visitors annually from 2006-2010, according to the National Park Service Public Use Statistics Office. The Olympic National Forest averaged almost three million visitors during the same time period.

In September, the committee released what they believe is the final proposal for expansion of the national park. The proposal now rests in the hands of state lawmakers to be turned into a bill.

All the proposed areas of expansion would convert current federal lands—parts of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Okanogan Nation Forest, and the Ross Lake National Recreation Area—into national park land.

“When you have a gateway that says ‘national park’ on it, there tends to be greater visitation,” said Jim Davis, project director for the American Alps Legacy Project. “(National park) is code for ‘this is a fantastic place to go and visit.’”

Davis said expanding the national park will make it a more attractive destination for families, because current access from the west side of the state is limited. He called it a “back-country park,” due to the distant boundaries and difficult access.

Ross Lake National Recreation Area (Credit: foders.com)

At present, the main way for Bellingham and other coastal residents to access the park by vehicle is driving south to Burlington, then east on Highway 20. Another option would be driving east from Bellingham on Highway 542 until it ends, but that route requires hiking to reach the park.

Peter Jackson, co-chair of the American Alps Legacy Project, believes the park could increase visitation by enhancing its “front-country,” the lower elevation areas closer to cities in the west.

The proposal targets better access for Whatcom residents by extending the park’s boundaries closer to Highway 542, an iconic area where the headwaters of the Nooksack River are located, Jackson said.

The added front-country would also include the Baker Rainforest, Bacon Creek, and Cascade River watershed, according to the proposal. These lower- elevation areas would provide more family-friendly trails and recreation opportunities, Jackson said.

Jackson described a national forest as “more resource-oriented” and a national park as “more public-oriented.”

National parks prohibit hunting, logging, mining, and hydropower operations, which would otherwise be permitted in a national forest. A national park staff enforces these rules and provides services to visitors who hike, observe wildlife, and camp, Jackson said.

The economic study looked at possible benefits of a larger park that included more family-friendly amenities on the west side. The results showed that over 20 years, more than 1,000 new jobs would be created in nearby communities through park attractions, Davis said.

“We’ve gotten the endorsements of the King, Snohomish, and Whatcom county councils, along with the Bellingham City Council,” Davis said. “We’re working on several more.”

Mount Baker in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, (Credit: planetware.com)

Jackson said they hope Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell will introduce a bill supporting the expansion in the next few months.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, since Sen. Cantwell expressed interest in the idea,” Jackson said. “Hopefully we have an expanded park by sometime next year—that’s the best case scenario.”

Did You Know?
North Cascades National Park has over 300 glaciers, more than any other park in the lower 48 states. More than half the glaciers in the 48 states are concentrated in this mountainous wilderness region called the North Cascades.


North Cascades National Park

Admission: No fees charged at North Cascades National Park

Address: 810 State Route 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284

Phone: (360) 854-7200

Website: nps.gov/noca

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

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