Stehekin is NOT Closed

Imagine Summer in Stehekin – a refreshing balance of visitor opportunities! 

Earlier this month, the North Cascades Conservation Council (N3C) president and vice president authored an opinion piece titled “Imagine summer in Stehekin without park rangers.” The authors lamented the closure of Stehekin’s Golden West Visitor Center and the absence of National Park Service (NPS) rangers in the Stehekin Valley this summer.

It would be unfortunate if readers assumed the closure of the visitor center and the absence of rangers means Stehekin will become a dormant visitor destination devoid of interest or welcoming human presence.

Fortunately, the opposite is true. Because of the Stehekin community’s existence in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (LCNRA) and its legislatively affirmed role in providing visitor services in the Stehekin, the moment you disembark from the boat or hike into the valley, you’ll be met by friendly individuals ready to answer questions and lend a helping hand.

Lodge concession staff, shuttle, and tour bus drivers (most with year-round Stehekin living experience), guest cabin proprietors, valley residents, and friends or family will meet you with affable greetings and provide helpful information.

If you’re fortunate enough to spend extended time in Stehekin, there’s plenty to do—hiking, fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, plus bike, vehicle, and small boat rentals are all available. Vacation cabin rentals, valley tours, a visit to a beautiful organic garden, and historic apple orchard will all be available for summer visitation. A world-class bakery, guest ranch, and valley craft shop will be open for visitors. As always, Stehekin will offer a refreshing balance of visitor opportunities.

The “Imagine Stehekin…” opinion piece promoted other messages that require review. An example is the statement that “Years ago, the park ceased providing van service staffed by rangers in Stehekin.”

Yes, the NPS did provide a popular shuttle bus service transporting visitors 21 miles from the boat landing to Cottonwood Camp, accessing magnificent trails and campgrounds along the way.

Today, those shuttles aren’t available because—in large part—organizations such as the N3C have exercised considerable influence with the NPS and elected officials to prevent Stehekin’s primitive Upper Valley Road from being repaired or rerouted after flood damage in 2003.

Obviously, if there is no road accessibility above High Bridge (halfway to Cottonwood), there’s no need for a ranger-driven shuttle service. Cause leads to effect.

The opinion piece also claimed, “In the past decade, visitation jumped 40%, while park staffing fell by more than 50%.

Visitation in the LCNRA—the Golden West Visitor Center’s location—has NOT “jumped 40%”. The latest NPS visitation numbers for the decade reveal that Stehekin’s visitation peaked in 2016 with 45,514 visitors and has decreased since then.

Is it possible the decrease in visitation and reduction in NPS staff can be partially attributed to the NPS’s refusal to repair or reroute Stehekin’s primitive Upper Valley Road?

Finally, the opinion piece asserted, “The decision by the National Park Service to abandon Stehekin is a betrayal of Congress’ intent in assigning Stehekin to the care of the Park Service.”

The NPS has not betrayed Congressional intention or abandoned Stehekin. Its presence in the valley is significant and represented by more than its ranger division. NPS employees live and work in the valley. They support facility, trail, and campground maintenance and offer natural resource management, firefighting, and law enforcement support—all these people contribute to quality visitor experiences.

Whether in the private or public sector, Stehekin Valley residents are neighborly. They are familiar with fielding travelers’ questions and gladly offer suggestions and provide information.

When you “Imagine Summer in Stehekin,” know that local businesses, concession employees, NPS personnel, and Stehekin residents will welcome you with warm, informed, personal courtesy. This is exactly what Congress intended for the LCNRA, Stehekin residents, and the visiting public.

Ron Scutt

President Stehekin Heritage

Here is the original opinion piece from the Seattle Times

Imagine summer in Stehekin without park rangers

March 4, 2024 at 3:34 pm Updated March 4, 2024 at 4:34 pm


Phil Fenner and Carolyn McConnell

Special to The Seattle Times

This summer, thousands of visitors will take ferries up 55-mile-long Lake Chelan and land at the tiny community of Stehekin, where they will be surrounded by spectacular scenery. The magnificent mountains, forests and river is what led Congress in 1968 to set this place aside as part of the North Cascades National Park complex.

One thing they won’t find in this gateway to the park: The National Park Service.

North Cascades National Park staff members have told park advocates rangers will not be working in Stehekin, which is part of the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, this summer. Information will continue to be posted online and on bulletin boards in the area.

For the first time since the park’s founding, there will be no rangers in gray and green to greet or give directions. No one to point out trailheads, issue permits for camping, explain the type of bears to look out for, name the surrounding mountains or even direct visitors to the bathrooms.  People who make their way uphill to the Golden West Visitor Center from the boat landing won’t be able to view information on local wildlife or look at art exhibits. The center will be locked and dark.

In the first decades since the North Cascades National Park’s founding, the visitor center in Stehekin was well-staffed with interpretive rangers who offered expert advice on hikes, whether for an afternoon or a week. They handed out national park stamps, coloring books and junior ranger badges to kids. They gave ranger talks on the natural forces that created the Stehekin Valley, its flora and fauna and local human history. They drove vans full of visitors up the narrow valley to trailheads. They made sure that visitors knew that dogs aren’t allowed on park trails and that they shouldn’t leave food around to tempt bears.  Rangers also provided search-and-rescue services and emergency medical care.

But in recent years, even as visitors increasingly flocked to this park, the Park Service has steadily cut back on services in the North Cascades. In the past decade, visitation jumped 40%, while park staffing fell by more than 50%. Years ago, the park ceased providing van service staffed by rangers in Stehekin.  Ranger talks grew rare.  But this year marks a sudden decision by federal authorities simply to give up on Stehekin.

The North Cascades National Park complex encompasses not only the glaciated climax of the Cascades range, but also two massive fjordlike lakes (Ross Lake and Lake Chelan, the third deepest lake in North America). It is one of the wildest of America’s national parks, yet it is just a few hours’ drive from the booming Seattle metropolitan area. It includes the unique Stehekin Valley — inaccessible by road and, thanks to Congress’ set-aside, a rare lowland valley with an unsullied wild river and more trout, bear and deer than buildings.

The decision by the National Park Service to abandon Stehekin is a betrayal of Congress’ intent in assigning Stehekin to the care of the Park Service. “There is nothing so American as our national parks,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said.  “The fundamental idea behind the parks … is that the country belongs to the people.”

The North Cascades National Park, like all national parks, comes under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The North Cascades Conservation Council and others ask Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and National Park Service Director Charles F. Sams III to fully staff Stehekin with rangers this summer, keep the Golden West Visitor Center open and commit to providing these services as the park has done for the last 55 years.

Phil Fenner and Carolyn McConnell Phil Fenner is president and Carolyn McConnell is vice president of the North Cascades Conservation Council.