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Crown Jewel Wilderness

Creating North Cascades National Park

Lauren Danner


Geographic isolation shielded the spectacular North Cascades from extensive resource extraction and development. Conservationists mobilized, seeking to establish a national park that prioritized wilderness. This engaging account traces how changing values, grassroots activism, and political compromise resulted in the 1968 creation of North Cascades National Park, a Northwest crown jewel.

“Environmental historian Lauren Danner masterfully tells the story of the decades of political wrangling over the North Cascades.”—National Park Traveler

“The book…offers timeless lessons in astute citizen activism and how to draw attention to a just cause…Danner never allows the dance of legislation to get dull.”—Seattle PI


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Remote, rugged, and spectacularly majestic, with stunning alpine meadows and jagged peaks that soar beyond ten thousand feet, North Cascades National Park is one of the Pacific Northwest’s crown jewels. Now, in the first full-length account, Lauren Danner chronicles its creation—just in time for the park’s fiftieth anniversary in 2018.

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 as economic affluence sparked national interest in wilderness preservation and growing concerns about the impact of harvesting timber to meet escalating postwar housing demands.

As the environmental movement matured, a 1950s Glacier Peak study mobilized conservationists to seek establishment of a national park that prioritized wilderness. Concerned about the National Park Service’s policy favoring development for tourism and the United States Forest Service’s policy promoting logging on the national forests, conservationists leveraged a changing political environment and the evolving environmental values of the natural resource agencies to achieve the goal of permanent wilderness protection. Their grassroots activism became increasingly sophisticated, eventually leading to the compromise that resulted in the 1968 creation of Washington’s magnificent third national park.

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

Listen to Lauren Danner’s KUOW interview.

Listen to Lauren Danner’s Columbia Conversations interview with Feliks Banel.

Illustrations / maps / notes / bibliography / index / 326 pages (2017)

$29.95 paperback



“An engaging history of the movement to create North Cascades National Park…The story is not as well-known as it deserves to be.”
—Chris Johnson, historian, National Park Service, Pacific West Regional Office, Seattle

“Lauren Danner’s engaging treatise on the North Cascade Mountain Range provides a window into the history federal land management and its impact on the West in the twentieth-century.…A highly readable book for those interested in how America’s federal landscape is shaped.”
—Lincoln Bramwell, PhD, Chief Historian, Forest Service Washington Office

Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park is a tonic in times when days are gray, rain blows horizontal and big drips in Washington, D.C., seem intent on ravaging America’s public domain. The book is of events half-a-century ago, but offers timeless lessons in astute citizen activism and how to draw attention to a just cause….Danner never allows the dance of legislation to get dull.”
—Joel Connelly, Seattle PI, November 27, 2017

“In Crown Jewel Wilderness, environmental historian Lauren Danner masterfully tells the story of the decades of political wrangling over the North Cascades…With clarity and insight, Danner tells a very complex story of conservation politics. In the 1950s and ‘60s leading up to the 1968 legislation, the politics were very involved, but she sorts out the details without getting so deep into the policy arguments that she loses all but policy wonks…This book is not just a political history of the struggle for protection of the North Cascades. It is a story of how much people cared about this place, and how dedicated they were to its protection from mining, logging, and development that would mar its exceptional beauty and wildness.”
—John Miles, National Park Traveler, November 12th, 2017

“This is an uplifting story for our times. It is not only scholarly, it is inspiring.”
—Michael McCloskey, former Pacific Northwest conservation representative and author, Conserving Oregon’s Environment: Breakthroughs That Made History

Crown Jewel Wilderness is a gem of page-turning intrigue.”
—Taylor Rose, Oregon Historical Quarterly

“Danner’s story of the inception of North Cascades National Park diligently documents the political realities undergirding the park’s creation in 1968…[It is] a meticulously researched contribution to environmental history, environmental policy, and agency histories.”
—Donna Sinclair, Independent Scholar, Adjunct Professor, WSU Vancouver and Portland State University

“I highly recommend Crown Jewel Wilderness for national park nerds, public land advocates, and historians alike. Ms. Danner has dusted-off the historical files and shares with us a story about the people, agencies, and industries that fought for (and against) the creation of what would become the North Cascades National Park complex. Her point of view allows us to champion alongside the grassroots movements, express bewilderment and frustration with the United States Forest Service and National Park Service, fight on Capitol Hill, and ultimately take in and truly appreciate the scenic vistas of that made the North Cascades our Crown Jewel Wilderness.”
—Sara Beth, Inner Compass blog

“This fine-grained case study in the politics of modern environmentalism chronicles the formation of North Cascades National Park in Washington State… Danner’s narrative about this case feels current, because it treats long-standing aspirations and problems within the environmental movement as it developed after World War II, and because many of the issues that dogged advocacy for conservation in the North Cascades in the 1960s still challenge us today.”
—Laura J. Feller, National Park Service (retired), The Public Historian

Additional information

Dimensions 6 x 9 in

eBook, Paperback