In 1899 the United States Congress established Mount Rainier National Park. It was the first park where the primary feature was a mountain and not mainly a forest, like Yellowstone, Sequoia, Yosemite and General Grant National Parks before it.
Mount Rainier was designated as federal public land to enjoy and preserve the “outstanding scenic and scientific value for the enjoyment of present and future generations,” according to Theodore Catton on the National Park’s website.
In fact, the park almost did not come to be. The land around it was first designated as forest preserve and covered part of the mountain’s glaciers but not all, and even then, the forest protection did not provide sufficient authorities to ensure the conservation of the mountain’s features. The eventual National Park designation addressed all these issues and more thanks to lobbying from the conservationists in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington.
The establishment of Mount Rainier National Park, according to Catton, also set a precedent for America’s growing National Park system. It signaled that conservation could include more than just natural resources, like forests for lumber and ore deposits for mining, but natural landmarks of beauty.
Mount Rainier tops the Cascade Range and dominates the skylines across the communities of Western Washington. If you live and work in Seattle or Tacoma or fly in for a visit, you’ll get a glimpse of the mountain. Maybe you want to get closer and be absorbed by it.
Without the National Park designation, I wonder whether the park could have a Whistler-like ski resort at its base. Would the area be less pristine? Would commercialism have trivialized the wilderness experience there?
My speculation about what could have been makes me appreciate this mountain and the community around it even more. I’m glad the mountain is where it is and what it is.