The Honorable Sally Jewell, Secretary
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20240
Re: Upper Stehekin Valley Road, North Cascades National Park
Dear Secretary Jewell:
I am writing to you on behalf of over 1,040 members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR), who collectively represent more than 30,000 years of national park management experience. CNPSR studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System.
The purpose of this letter is to express our concern about the rider contained within the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015 regarding North Cascades National Park. This provision of the Law authorizes an adjustment to the boundaries of the Park and the Stephen Mather Wilderness for the purpose of constructing a road into the Upper Stehekin Valley. Specifically, it declares that the Secretary “may” adjust the boundaries of the Park and Wilderness in order to provide a 100 foot wide corridor along which the Stehekin Valley Road “may” be rebuilt.
The Upper Stehekin Valley Road was first built decades before the Park was established in 1968 to provide access for mining. It consisted of a poorly engineered route that was bulldozed along the bed of the drainage and extended about 10 miles upriver from Lake Chelan. Travel on it was mainly limited to high-clearance vehicles. After park establishment, the National Park Service (NPS) frequently utilized Federal Highway emergency funds to enable repair of the roadway and bridges following recurring storm damage. In 1988, the Washington Parks Wilderness Act recognized a 100 foot wide non-wilderness corridor from the southern boundary of the newly created Stephen Mather Wilderness Area to the Cottonwood Trailhead where the road ended at that time. A commercial shuttle service, which was subsidized by the NPS, provided transportation along this route for up to 2,000 visitors annually. In October, 2003, record flooding severely damaged much of the road base. In 2006, the NPS completed a comprehensive, NEPA-based, examination of future use of this corridor. A decision was made to convert the old road bed to a hiker/stock trail. This decision was based upon the following determinations:
- Conversion of this route to hiker/stock use would cause the least damage to the biological and physical environment when compared to other alternatives.
- Reconstructing the road in place would cause substantial adverse impacts to the environment, especially to the Stehekin River and its floodplain. It was also recognized that, given the fragile foundation of the soils, etc, any road in the drainage would inevitably wash out again, sooner or later – and often.
- Constructing a new road on the mountainside above the drainage would cause various significant adverse impacts to vegetation and wildlife, and would be cost prohibitive.
We strongly oppose any action on the part of the Department of Interior or the National Park Service to reconstruct the old road or construct a new one along this corridor as authorized in the recently passed law for the following reasons:
- A decision to convert the washed-out road to a hiker/stock trail was made in 2006. It was based upon a comprehensive NEPA-driven examination of alternatives and potential impacts. The outcome of this process was a wise decision by the NPS to permanently close the road and convert it to a hiker/stock trail.
- Since the storm of 2003, the landscape of this corridor has recovered dramatically from the impacts of the old road. Any new road construction in the corridor would cause significant harm to park resources and would be inconsistent with the NPS mandate to conserve resources “unimpaired.”
- The costs of new road construction as contemplated in the legislation (some estimates exceed $5,000,000) far exceed the value of the investment. The numbers of hikers and horses that travel along this corridor now approximate the number of visitors who traveled along this route more than a decade ago in one of the few vehicles transported 56 miles by ferry to the trailhead. Commercial stock service has replaced commercial shuttles by 4-wheel drive vehicles. It is inconceivable that objective prioritization of painfully limited funds so badly needed to repair roads in heavily used parks would not place this project near or even at the bottom of any such list. The NPS estimates that a new NEPA process alone would cost about $500,000.
Over the many years of their careers with the National Park Service, our members have confronted more than a few efforts to reverse difficult decisions and hard won victories. The strength of our System is that such efforts to turn back the clock are invariably rejected. The effort to re-open a long-abandoned road in the Upper Stehekin Valley falls into this category, and should be rejected as well.
cc: The Honorable Patty Murray, U.S. Senate
The Honorable Maria Cantwell, U.S. Senate
The Honorable David G. Reichert, U.S. House of Representatives
Jonathan Jarvis, Director, National Park Service
Karen Taylor-Goodrich, Superintendent, North Cascades National Park