The unrealized potential of North Cascades National Park
By Patrick Hannigan
If you haven’t heard yet about the proposal to expand and develop North Cascades National Park, you will soon.
Presently, just 20,000 visitors step foot in the 684,000-acre NCNP each year, making it one of the larger – but least visited – parks in the lower 48 states. The expansion proposal promises to add 304,300 acres to the park and expand visitation to 940,000 people in the next 20 years.
The American Alpine Development Project, which is leading the effort to expand NCNP, contends the best way to protect the lands surrounding the existing park from logging, mining and dam construction is to include them in the expanded park – and develop them.
“Presently, NCNP is primarily a wilderness park that is somewhat inaccessible to motorized visitation,” said a study commissioned by the AADP titled The Unrealized Potential of North Cascades National Park. “Further, the park lacks roadside amenities and crowds that can provide visitors with a more traditional national park experience.”
In order to provide visitors to NCNP a more traditional park experience, the AADP proposes developing seven short new “family-friendly” trails, four new or expanded campgrounds, 11 new interpretive sites, 10 new educational sites and 10 new cultural sites.
Each site would feature informational kiosks and mandatory guided tours available for a reasonable price. Of course, all 42 proposed improvements along the North Cascades Highway would also require new parking lots sized to handle one million visitors per year.
“The best way to protect the lands adjacent to the park is to expand the park and dramatically increase visitation,” said the AADP report. “Sometimes you have to develop wilderness in order to save wilderness.”
Winthrop and Twisp would see spectacular economic benefits as a result of the sprawling growth associated with national park gateways, said American Alpine Development Project spokesperson Wally Martin.
“An aggressive public-private marketing campaign of the ‘new’ park will allow the Methow tourism industry to capture nearly one million more visitors per year by 2030,” said Martin. “That’s way more cars, Harleys, motels, mini-golf courses, T-shirt shops, RV parks, gas stations, olde time photo studios, port-a-potties, trinket shops, fast food restaurants, go-kart tracks and ice cream parlors.”
According to the proposal, the main visitor center and tollbooths ($25 per car for a 7-day pass, plus $12 per occupant) for the park entrance would be built just outside Winthrop. All private lands west of Winthrop – including the town of Mazama – would become part of the newly expanded national park.
“We understand moving is a hassle, but everyone in the upper Methow will receive fair market value for their land and homes,” said current NCNP superintendent Skip Rock. “We’d like to respectfully demand your support in protecting one of America’s most scenic national treasures.”
To ease the transition, Rock said displaced Mazama residents will receive vouchers for two months free rent in one of the FEMA trailers at a new refugee camp that would be built in the gravel pit outside Twisp.
Early opposition to expanding the park comes from the few backcountry skiers, climbers, mountain bikers, snowmobilers, horseback riders and hunters who currently use the lands surrounding the park the most.
Superintendent Rock said outdoor enthusiasts have nothing to worry about because there are plenty of other places in North Central Washington to pursue the recreational activities that will be prohibited in the national park.
“Hiking will still be allowed, provided people have all the proper passes and permits and as long as they stay on the paved trails,” said Rock.
To learn more about the case for expanding NCNP, visit americanalps.org. To read the case against park expansion, see noparkexpansion.blogspot.com.