Pacific Crest Trail work begins in North Cascades National Park

On May 19, six volunteers from the North 350 Blades and I traveled to Chelan, Washington, and caught the Lady of The Lake, a boat that travels the deep, blue waters of Lake Chelan. After enjoying the scenic ride, we were met at the dock in Stehekin by Aaron Robinson of the National Park Service. He provided camping permits and tools before driving us to High Bridge Campground, our base camp for a four-day project doing seasonal maintenance work and replacing signs along the PCT.

Volunteering in North Cascades National Park, we made a new sign for the Stehekin Ranch.

A new sign for the Stehekin Valley Ranch and their clients.

Paving the way for PCTA’s first project in the North Cascades National Park was a new Volunteer Service Agreement between the PCTA and the National Park Service, which Karen Taylor-Goodrich, the North Cascades National Park superintendant, signed in March. Volunteer agreements outline PCTA’s scope of work and responsibilities for trail maintenance and provide medical coverage if a volunteer is injured while working on a project.

As PCTA’s volunteer program in the North Cascades region expands, North 350 Blade volunteers are beginning to adopt sections of trail in the park to perform annual maintenance, including replacing signs.

(Left to right) Shannon Cunningham, Rudy Giecek, Dereck Catron, Denise Crafton and Jay Crafton installed news signs along the trail.

(Left to right) Shannon Cunningham, Rudy Giecek, Dereck Catron, Denise Crafton and Jay Crafton installed news signs along the trail.

Thanks to the generosity of a private donor, for the past three years PCTA has been purchasing and installing new signs along the trail. These are navigational signs denoting direction, destinations, and in some cases mileage, making it easier to navigate on the PCT and other trails.

Two years ago, Tyler Marriot, a volunteer in the PCTA’s Mount Hood Chapter, took on the project of routing the custom oak signs. Thanks to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest’s Mount Adams Ranger District, he was able to use their sign shop to produce the signs, tripling the number of signs produced for the northern part of the PCT.

This sign replacement project also crossed an important threshold in the changing the name of Coon Lake to Howard Lake. Signs directing trail users to Coon Lake are no more. The name, seen as derogatory by many people, has been controversial for much of the last decade.



Jonathan Rosenblum, a local activist, wrote about the issue in the Seattle Times:

Some 125 years ago, prospectors headed into the upper Stehekin Valley in search of copper, gold and silver, thrashing through untamed wilderness to stake their claims. It was a tough go. One miner, Wilson Howard, staked claims around the lake at the base of McGregor in 1891. He named it Howard Lake. It’s hard to learn much about Howard. Like so many of his anonymous compatriots, Howard didn’t strike it rich and his life story disappeared into the ether of time.

But this much is known: Howard was a black man, one of only two men of African descent who prospected in the North Cascades in the late 19th century. And this also is known: Within a few years of Howard’s departure from the Stehekin Valley, the white residents there renamed the lake “Coon Lake.”

No, there are no raccoons there.

Although the National Park Service was slow to accept the official renaming of the lake and adjacent creek, they enthusiastically embraced the PCTA’s offer to supply and install new signs. Our crew of seven hiked the trail between High Bridge and Bridge Creek and installed six signs. We replaced two rotten posts with natural materials and hung trail markers at junctions.

Jay crafts a new post in the wilderness.

Jay crafts a new post in the wilderness.

Shannon Cunningham, a North 350 Blades volunteer, had this to say about the work:

I feel fortunate to have been a part of this collaborative effort, not only for the trail but for the relationship between the PCTA and the National Park Service. Even though we didn’t take a trip on the famous red bus, rambling up the valley in a pickup truck to camp and chatting with the park staff about life and work in this secluded community helped us feel a part of what is happening here. Having hiked into the area on the Pacific Crest Trail twice before, both northbound and southbound, it was meaningful to revisit one of my favorite memories on the PCT and also to help improve signage that was in desperate need of updating.

Many visitors to the park take the trip up to High Bridge and get a taste of the PCT and our work will help show that our agencies are giving the trail the attention it deserves, not to mention directing hikers in and out of town more effectively. I also enjoyed sitting together in the evening with others who love the PCT just as much as I do and sharing trail stories after spending time working on that very trail. This was my first overnight work party and I am looking forward to more opportunities to give back to the trail in the future.

There are still more projects to be done in the national park but the crew completed as much as they could on this long weekend and yet made sure to leave time on the way out to stop with another NPS staff member, Joe, and treat themselves for their hard work at the famous Stehekin Bakery that had just opened for the season.                                                           

As the PCTA develops its relationship with the North Cascades National Park, there will be an increasing number of volunteer opportunities in the park. Later this summer, a volunteer crew is scheduled to work near South Fork Camp doing some much needed brushing and sign installation. Go here to learn more or to volunteer for the project.

Support our trail crews by donating or volunteering today.

Author: Bill Hawley

Bill Hawley is our North Cascades Regional Representative. He's in charge of the PCT from Rock Creek in southern Washington to the Canadian border. His regional office is located in North Bend, Wash. Bill was out hiking the PCT “back before it was the PCT,” and has been a life-long devotee. He was an active volunteer before joining staff.