Governor Evans and the Book That Saved the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Check out how Governor Evans and a Mountaineers Book inspired President Ford to create the Alpine Lake Wilderness we know and love today.
Peter Dunau Peter Dunau
Mountaineers Communications Specialist
September 19, 2017

A picture is worth a thousand words, but the images collected in The Alpine Lakes are worth even more than that. The photographs in this book, published by The Mountaineers in 1971, inspired President Gerald Ford to designate the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area.

These days, it’s hard to imagine the Pacific Northwest without the 400,000-acre Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Comprised of spires, peaks, ridgelines, valleys, and watersheds, the famed landscape is a short drive from Seattle, keeping the city connected to the wild beauty of the Cascades. But in the 1970s, its fate was uncertain.

The critical moment began when Congressman Joel Pritchard called Washington State Governor Dan Evans and said, “Can you come back to Washington, D.C.? Alpine Lakes Wilderness looks like it’s in real trouble. Can you get an appointment with President Ford?”

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness was indeed in trouble. After a dedicated advocacy push — which included presenting copies of The Alpine Lakes to every member of the Senate committee — a bill to establish the wilderness area managed to pass Congress. However, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, and the Office of Management and Budget all advised the President to veto the bill. The Forest Service even drafted veto language for him.

Governor Evans, a former Boy Scout, and champion of Washington’s wild places, managed to secure a meeting with President Ford. But along with it came some stern guidelines, “The President is very busy. You get 15 minutes — that’s it.”

When Evans arrived in Washington D.C., he realized he was missing a key tool of persuasion, The Alpine Lakes book. He recalled that one of the Boy Scouts who had been in his troop was now living nearby in Maryland. It was worth a try.

Evans gave his former troop member a call. “Have you got a copy of that book? Can you bring it to me tomorrow morning? I’m meeting with the President.”

“Yes,” came the reply, “On one condition: you have to get the President to autograph it for me.”

Equipped with The Alpine Lakes book, Evans walked into the President’s office.

“I sat down with the President and then opened the book,” Evans recalls, “That 15 minutes turned into 45 minutes. Aides kept coming in and saying, ‘Mr. President, you have to get to the next meeting; you have to go.’ And he just kept leafing through that book, lost. You know he was an Eagle Scout, a hiker, a lover of the outdoors himself, and as a result, the Forest Service took a back seat, he signed the bill and Alpine Lakes was created."

A Lifelong Passion

When Governor Evans came in for this interview to discuss The Alpine Lakes, his love for wild places was as strong as ever.

“I’m going on a hike tomorrow,” he said, “I’m actually going with the fellow, Bill Douglas, who lent me the book I took to President Ford. He still lives in Maryland, but he comes back and visits family in Seattle every summer. We’re going down to Lake Eunice, near the north side of Mount Rainier.”

As Evans anticipated his upcoming hike, he also recalled a trip with Douglas some 70 years ago. Evans was 25 and Douglas was 16. Along with a couple of other scouts, they spent all winter making plans to follow the path of the O’Neil Expedition, one of the first parties to explore the Olympic Mountains.

“We read all the accounts and traced where they had gone,” said Evans, “That was the hike of a lifetime. Seven days. We went into the Skokomish up to O’Neil Pass, getting into country people seldom see, following an elk trail. We summited Mount Olympus, and it was absolutely beautiful.”

As he considered the trip in the context of his political career fighting for wild places, he remarked, “I had no idea what was coming, but I was sure enjoying what was there.”

The Mountaineers Get the President’s Ear

Evans carried the bill through the final stretch, but as he says, “It was really created because there were an awful lot of citizen volunteers who made it happen.” Leading the way were a group of Mountaineers.

Using funds generated from Freedom of the Hills — The Mountaineers’ seminal book on climbing techniques — the club began publishing books geared towards conservation. Among them was The Alpine Lakes, written by Brock Evans, edited by Harvey Manning, and brought to life with beautiful photographs by Ed Cooper and Bob Gunning.

“They were giants, paving the way for what we do to this day,” says Helen Cherullo, the current publisher of Mountaineers Books, “When you show someone a book, it draws them into the natural world. Whether it’s the president or your neighbor, it inspires people to care.”

Finding Common Ground Outdoors

Governor Evans is no stranger to inspiring people to care. In his quest to protect wild places, he reached out to lawmakers and citizens from all sides of the political spectrum. It’s a bipartisan approach he thinks we could use more of today.

“I think the problem now is that we carry politics beyond the floor of Congress and extend that to personal relationships,” says Evans, “Following my time as Governor, I served in Congress as a Senator. At that time, the whole Washington State delegation, including myself, would meet once a week during session. We had an even split politically between Democrats and Republicans, but the whole focus was on what’s important for the state of Washington. That’s how we got things done.”

Putting people above politics gave Evans confidence when he walked into the president’s office.

“President Ford was a pretty easy guy to talk to and work with,” remarked Evans, “We had built a relationship dating back to his time in the House of Representatives. He was happy to see me, and of course, he loved nature too.”

From the Bottom Up

In looking at the conservation issues facing us today, Evans also advises, “When citizens get roused, it’s amazing how things start to move in Congress. People are very powerful, all they have to do is put that power together.”

He suggests people share their stories, stating “One personal letter counts for a hundred form letters. Those individual voices magnified hundreds of times — I know as a former Governor and Senator, that’s when lawmakers listen.”

Mountaineers Books continues to put this practice to the test through its Braided River titles. These books combine nature photography and literature, connecting people to wild places and inspiring them to protect them.

Mountaineers Books Publisher Helen Cherullo says, “I hear the same thing over and over again when I show someone a book. They say, ‘I had no idea there was a place this special.’ That’s the first step to becoming an advocate.”

Pictures really can make a difference. Look no further than President Ford and the book that saved the Alpine Lakes.

Editor's Note

This story originally appeared in Mountaineers Magazine. Following its publication, the Olympic Wilderness (which makes up over 95% of Olympic National Park) was renamed in honor of Governor Evans. This honor speaks to his steadfast commitment to protecting our most wild places and his bipartisan approach. We look forward to generations to come being able to enjoy the Daniel J. Evans Wilderness!

 


Add a comment

Log in to add comments.
Marilyn Lindahl
Marilyn Lindahl says:
Mon, Oct 2, 2017 7:45 PM

In 1966 I was on a 6 day Boy Scout hike out of Camp Parsons where we climbed McCartney Peak. Dan Evans was govenor then. Imagine our delight, while perusing the summit register, when we saw Dan Evans' entry 20-some years earlier as having done the same thing when he was a Boy Scout. He has been a favorite personality ever since. Eric L. Troop 602

Randy Farrell
Randy Farrell says:
Fri, Oct 6, 2017 1:30 PM

We once again are in need of a champion for our region here in Snohomish County, Wa. Years ago Governor Evans maintained access to the Mt Pilchuck trailhead, 3100 ft elevation that produced economic outdoor recreational ! opportunities for the region. In the past 40+ years we have seen continued closures to forest roads due to nature and our forest lands continue erosion without remedy. Now, a new voice needs to champion the historical relevance our region represents. Contact me for more info please, we have purposed intent to create a task force for economic sustainabilities within the north county of Snohomish.

Randy Farrell
Randy Farrell says:
Fri, Oct 6, 2017 1:32 PM

We once again are in need of a champion for our region here in Snohomish County, Wa. Years ago Governor Evans maintained access to the Mt Pilchuck trailhead, 3100 ft elevation that produced economic outdoor recreational opportunities for the region. In the past 40+ years we have seen continued closures to forest roads due to nature and our forest lands continue erosion without remedy. Now, a new voice needs to champion the historical relevance our region represents. Contact me for more info please, we have purposed intent to create a task force for economic sustainabilities within the north county of Snohomish.