Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park

By Rose, Taylor E. | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park


Rose, Taylor E., Oregon Historical Quarterly


CROWN JEWEL WILDERNESS: CREATING NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK

by Lauren Danner

Washington State University Press, Pullman, 2017. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. 326 pages. $29.95, paper.

To all who have laid eyes on its regal peaks and deep green valleys, North Cascades National Park (NCNP) is a stunning piece of scenery. Along the Pacific Slope of the United States, the sublimity of its natural beauty is rivaled only by Washington State's two other national parks: Olympic and Mount Rainier. If you were to ask anyone in Seattle with a pair of hiking boots, they probably would assume that preserving North Cascades was a no-brainer. But in Crown Jewel Wilderness, Lauren Danner digs into the region's history and reveals the prolonged contention that prevented the park's establishment until 1968. With an impressive grasp of the nuances of federal land-use classifications as well as deep knowledge of the finer points of mid-century conservationism, she demonstrates how a generation of proposals, negotiations, and compromises spawned one of the most complex land management arrangements in the West, comprising national forests, national recreation areas, wilderness areas, and one spectacular "jewel" of a national park along the Canadian border.

Danner builds on a robust body of historical literature that tells a tale of bureaucratic enmity between the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. The story will be familiar to anyone who has watched Ken Burns's popular PBS series, The National Parks: America's Best Idea. The narrative typically begins, as Danner does in the first chapter, with differences of ideology between Gifford Pinchot and John Muir. It becomes more complicated with the rise of the automobile and the concerns of nascent wilderness preservationists like Aldo Leopold and Bob Marshall. And then, after World War II, it simultaneously fractures and explodes, with the agencies coming to function as pawns among private interests, public pressures, and well-organized grassroots organizations. In a 1989 essay, historian Hal Rothman described the inter-agency rivalry as a "regular ding-dong fight," quoting sources from the 1930s to describe "squabbles" that "often seemed petty, motivated by little more than bureaucratic intransigence and a degree of territoriality rivaled only by medieval despots" (" 'A Regular Ding Dong Fight' " Western Historical Quarterly, Summer 1989). Danner carries Rothman's analysis into the mid twentieth century and adds evidence to support the argument that his conclusions apply to the postwar era, albeit in distinctive forms. …

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