By Eric Burr
Have you noticed all the cars lately, parallel-parked along Highway 20 below Liberty Bell and Blue Lake; or while hiking to Blue Lake, seen the warnings about mountain goats? When I was a ranger during the more generous budget years of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, we were able to patrol such trails, with both goats and human climbers.
Mission 1966 partially caught up with the staggering maintenance backlog for parks after WWII. That period of neglect was very similar to our post-Vietnam and Iraq eras, with budget cuts for both parks and forests.
The introduced goat population in the Olympic Mountains exploded on my watch there, as sub-district ranger, and I later became involved with those goats, on days off, as a seasonal mountaineering ranger and naturalist. The similarities between our scenic highway corridor and the Hurricane Ridge Road are significant. Even back then, it took a grant from the National Wildlife Federation to get any action on the goat problems. Our current grants from the National Forest Foundation — for restoration — and the State Recreation and Conservation Funding Board — for climbing rangers — are similar, in that they’re only token attempts to supplement the grossly inadequate National Forest budget.
The problem out on the ground — as opposed to in Congress — is interactive habitat destruction by both the two- and four-legged mountaineers. A recent book on mountain goats is Life on the Rocks — A Portrait of the American Mountain Goat, by Bruce Smith (2014). The latest on our local two-legged climbing mecca is AmericanAlps.org with its plan for Liberty Bell.
The Cascades Loop has yet another plan, which doesn’t necessarily involve the American Alps’ call for an expanded National Park preserve. The term “reserve” is in the American Alps proposal to allow some existing uses such as hunting, fishing, flying and aid climbing to be grandfathered in, as was done in Alaska.
Out-of-control climber impact is even greater than I anticipated back in 2008, when I published Ski Trails and Wildlife. The suggestions it contains however, still apply, but are now more urgently needed. This last spring in the Swiss Alps, I discovered a book that backs up my book’s conclusions, using extremely thorough academic research. Creating Wilderness, by Patrick Kupper, examines the Swiss national park in relation to other national parks and alpine recreation areas around the world. In the process it blows away superstitious myths such as “pristine wilderness” and “the big bad wolf.”
These lessons for both the political left and right, respectively, remind me of Carter Niemyer’s book, Wolfer. Watch for his new memoir, Wolf Land, due out in October. All four books illustrate why opposing political nonsense is prudent, if common sense is to prevail.
Getting money for the Cascade Loop’s suggested improvements may happen sooner if the American Alps’ hoped for expansion happens. Former Washington governor and senator Dan Evans, plus Jim Whittaker, and many other famous conservationists are part of this campaign. National parks are “America’s best idea,” according to both Wallace Stegner and Ken Burns. National forests unfortunately are, traditionally, a lower budget priority for Congress.
Work to be done
Mountain goat behavior is influenced by their craving for the salt produced by hikers and climbers. Sanitary infrastructure is only part of the best solution.
Trails from more adequate parking areas are the immediate need to mitigate the simple trampling of too many feet on too many informal, user-created trails. The nearby Maple Pass loop trail is finally getting long-overdue maintenance in cooperation with the North Cascades National Park (which it borders), and funding from the National Forest Foundation. The Blue Lake hiking trail, below Liberty Bell, is also getting help from the foundation.
The latest book about park trails, including goats in Glacier, is Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods, by Christine Byl (2013). It was preceded by Ana Maria Spagna’s Now Go Home: Wilderness Belonging and the Crosscut Saw, about trails in both national forests and parks. These books focus on trails as user-friendly management tools. Spagna’s Potluck, published later, is a reality check about life in Stehekin, within the North Cascades National Park Complex, since 1968. It bears close reading by national park fans!
Local climbing organizations have banded together in an effort to obtain funding for more trail work up at Liberty Bell. They deserve support to help restore alpine flowers, wildlife, and climber safety. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org, the Mountaineers at www.mountaineers.org or the Washington Trails Association at www.wta.org.
Eric Burr lives in Mazama.