Skagit Valley Provincial Park

History

photo of Skagit Valley Not only does the Skagit Valley have significant natural attributes, but it also has an interesting history of human activity. Historic routes through the valley are incorporated into present-day hiking trails. American archaeologists have identified pottery shards from the southern US, which indicates the valley’s use as a native trade route. The Skagit River Trail follows sections of this ancient route from the coast to the interior.

In 1858, Captain Walter de Lacy of the US Army founded a trail from Whatcom (Bellingham Bay) to the interior. This trail became known as the Whatcom Trail and followed the Skagit River and Snass Creek to the Dewdney Trail. Eventually the trail was no longer used because of the steep terrain. Today’s Skagit River Trail follows a section of the Whatcom Trail between 26 Mile Bridge and Sumallo Grove.

Miners made use of parts of the Whatcom Trail from 1879 to 1880 as they travelled through the valley in search of gold at Ruby Creek, Washington. In 1910 Dan Greenwalt and W.A. Stevens from the US reported a gold strike near Steamboat (Shawatum) Mountain. Prospectors flocked to the area. Three town sites were constructed, boasting two hotels, three general stores, two restaurants, two barber shops, a rooming house, several residences, a real estate office, a sawmill, a newspaper mill, and a newspaper called the Hope-Steamboat Nugget. In May 1911 it was reported that between 300 and 550 men were prospecting in the area. A Board of Trade was established and seven gold mining companies were incorporated. In June 1911, it was revealed that the area had been laced or salted with gold. In August of 1911 the Chief of the Dominion Geological Survey stated that Steamboat Mountain was on the edge of a coal formation, but there was no evidence of gold. Just before the bust, Greenwalt and Stevens sold their stock and made off with $90,000. Steamboat became a ghost town.

One of the early settlers in the area was an English immigrant, Mr. Henry Robert Whitworth who operated a 256 hectare cattle ranch from 1905 to 1909. He built a 10 room ranch house, outbuildings and a stable with lumber cleared from the land. Mr. Whitworth also purchased the Cawley Ranch which later became Chittenden Meadow. The Whitworths and their five daughters left the area due to illness.

In 1906, the Seattle City Light Company began work on the first dams across the Skagit River. By 1937, flooding from the Diablo, Gorge and Ross Dams on the US side of the border had caused the Ross Lake Reservoir to approach the Canadian border. Plans for the “High Ross” dam indicated the Skagit Valley, on the Canadian side, would flood as far as Silvertip Campground. In 1941 the International Joint Committee approved the High Ross project, supporting the need for more power to aid the war effort. The project was delayed because the road which was required to clear the land was not constructed until 1946. Political delays over compensation for flooding the land continued to hold back the project. Eventually, Mr. “Curley” Chittenden was hired by the Seattle City Light Company to supervise the clearing of the land. He commenced work but after a period of time refused to continue the project and joined the fight to save the area. By 1967 a compensation agreement was reached. However, public opposition was growing strong. A group was formed called the ROSS Committee, “Run Out Skagit Spoilers”, which was comprised of both American and Canadian citizens.

In 1968 the US National Park Service established the North Cascades National Park and the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. In 1973 the BC Government declared the Skagit Valley as a provincial Recreation Area. The area became a provincial park in 1997. Although Ross Lake Reservoir lied mainly in the US, it extends into BC. In the summer months high water levels are maintained in order to permit water recreation. However, water levels may fluctuate at any time.

In 1984, the BC-Seattle agreement was formed committing BC Hydro to provide power to Seattle in return for not raising the water levels in the Skagit Valley. As a result of the agreement, the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission was established to administer an endowment fund devoted to improving the environmental qualities and recreation opportunities in the Skagit River drainage.

Cultural Heritage

Archaeologists have identified artifacts confirming First Nations use of the Skagit Valley dating back 8000 years. The Skagit River Trail and the Skyline Trail follow sections of ancient routes first established by aboriginal people. The area also proved important to 19th century miners and settlers.

Conservation

The Skagit Valley lies 150 km east of Vancouver in the Cascade Mountains. The Skagit River originates near Allison Pass in Manning Provincial Park and flows westerly into the Skagit Valley. Ross Lake Reservoir is located in the southern portion of the valley. The Provincial Park encompasses 27,948 hectares of land and is influenced by both the moist coastal and the semi-arid interior weather systems. The rain shadow effect of the mountains limits the annual rainfall to half that of Hope. The diversity of ecosystems provides habitat for species of flora and fauna common to both the interior and coastal climates.

Trees native to this area include the Sitka spruce and broadleaf maple which occur more frequently closer to the coast. Ponderosa pine and trembling aspen, common to the interior of BC are found in meadows along the valley floor.

Many wildflowers, such as the red rhododendron, flourish in the valley. These beautiful shrubs extend into Manning Park’s Rhododendron Flats but have not been discovered anywhere else on the mainland of BC. Lupine, columbine, honeysuckle and wild rose are also common.

Skagit Valley straddles the transition zone between coastal and interior forest types and features both mature and second-growth stands. The park protects four unique stands of rhododendron, black cottonwood, ponderosa pine, and coastal Douglas-fir.

Wildlife

Some of the animals to watch for include deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, grey wolf, beaver, chipmunk and marten.

Over 200 species of birds frequent the area. These include the great blue heron and the kingfisher, which are often seen along the Skagit River and at Ross Lake Reservoir. Eagles, owls and migratory mountain bluebirds may be seen from the Silver/Skagit Road.

The Skagit River provides excellent fly fishing for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char.