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Monday, June 28, 2010

Everett Herald editorial advocates for American Alps

Published: Sunday, June 27, 2010

Completing a worthy vision

The National Parks may well be America's Best Idea, as filmmaker Ken Burns declared in his recent PBS series. The North Cascades National Park may be one of its best-kept secrets. It's not that folks around here haven't heard of this majestic slice of natural beauty, which occupies nearly 685,000 acres on either side of Highway 20 east of the Skagit County town of Concrete. It's that most who have heard of it have never set foot inside. Highway 20 bisects the park, but none of it lies inside the park boundaries. Only one road leads from the highway into the park.

A tireless group of conservationists, led by the North Cascades Conservation Council and the Mountaineers, is pushing to make access a whole lot easier. That's part of a larger and very welcome effort, dubbed the American Alps Legacy Project, to expand the park's acreage by almost 50 percent. It would bring about 245,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land and 57,700 acres of the Ross Lake National Recreation Area into the park. It's all a matter of redesignating existing federal land; no private land is involved. Doing so will add needed protections to pristine streams, old-growth forests and sub-alpine lakes. And it will complete the original vision for the park, which came up short due to a series of political compromises when Congress created it in 1968. The Highway 20 corridor would become part of the park, with new entrances and visitor centers, along with 25 miles of new family-friendly trails. New visitor amenities would include waterfall tours, cultural interpretation sites and ecotourism viewpoints.

Some of the hearty souls who helped win the park's original designation, now in their 80s and 90s, are pushing the expansion effort. Among them are Laura and Phil Zalesky, both 86-year-old retired teachers from the Everett School District and two of the area's most celebrated conservationists. The Snohomish County Council has unanimously endorsed the idea. Former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Dan Evans, who as governor helped spearhead creation of the park, is part of the campaign.

Expanding the park requires an act of Congress, and that part of the politicking is just getting started. First comes a summer of community outreach, during which the North Cascades Conservation Council and others will hold informational meetings throughout the area. They've been meeting with interest groups, such as hunters, to win support by ensuring that new boundaries are drawn in ways that minimize disruption of traditional activities. They also commissioned an economic impact study, which found that the expansion would lead to the creation of about 1,000 jobs, most of them tourism related.

With the National Park Service's centennial coming up in 2016, we can't imagine a more appropriate way to mark the occasion here than by improving on America's Best Idea, and letting more Americans enjoy it.


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