S. 1690

Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area Act 


JUNE 15, 2016

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 1690, a bill to establish the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area in the State of Washington. 

The Department supports enactment of S. 1690 as the proposed Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area has been found to meet the National Park Service’s interim criteria for designation as a national heritage area. 

However, along with designating any new national heritage areas, the Department recommends that Congress pass national heritage area program legislation.  There are currently 49 designated national heritage areas, yet there is no authority in law that guides the designation and administration of these areas.  Program legislation that establishes criteria to evaluate potentially qualified national heritage areas and a process for the designation, funding, and administration of these areas would provide a much-needed framework for evaluating proposed national heritage areas.  It would offer guidelines for successful planning and management, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of all parties, and standardize timeframes and funding for designated areas.  The Department also notes that newly-authorized national heritage areas will compete for limited resources in the Heritage Partnership Program. The President’s FY17 Budget proposes $9.4 million for the current 49 areas.  The authorization of additional national heritage areas will leave less funding for each individual national heritage area.

The Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area would include lands within King and Kittitas Counties stretching from Snoqualmie Pass to Seattle.  The proposed local coordinating entity would be the nonprofit corporation Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

Initially, NPS review of the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area Feasibility Study completed by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust (Trust) in March 2012, found that the study did not meet the NPS Interim National Heritage Area Feasibility Study Guidelines.  In a subsequent May 27, 2014, Addendum the Trust provided a revised statement of national importance; themes and a list of associated resources; a summary of traditions, customs, beliefs and folk life; and a boundary justification.  

The proposed Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area is important for its association with the expansion of our national transportation system and creation of our modern timber industry.  It tells the story of how the Northern Pacific and Milwaukee railroads, and later the Sunset Highway and Interstate 90, created the final section of an historic transportation corridor that wove the Northwest into the nation’s fabric, opened up trade between the United States and Asia, and led to development of the industrial timber practices in use today .  

Although by 1850 the Puget Sound area was part of the United States, the Cascade Range isolated this region with its abundant natural resources and sheltered deep-water ports from the rest of the nation.  In 1864, the Northern Pacific Railroad was chartered by President Lincoln.   Constructed along a Native American pathway through the nearly impassible Snoqualmie Pass, it   reached Seattle 20 years later.  This railroad connection from the Eastern seaboard and the Great Lakes to the western most reaches of the continental United States reinforced the newly drawn American-Canadian border. The city of Seattle grew into a booming hub for shipbuilding and trade of foreign goods and the region’s own wealth of natural resources, opening the country’s first trade routes on the Pacific Rim. Rail towns sprung up along the main lines, mill and coal towns on the spurs, while piers stretched into Puget Sound, attracting immigrant workers whose descendants live in the region today. 

The Milwaukee Road crossed the Cascades in the early 1900s, pioneering tunneling and electrification techniques that allowed the high speed electric trains to carry Japanese silk, the nation’ s most precious rail commodity after gold and silver bullion, to New York.  But the Milwaukee Road made its money carrying passengers to ski, hike and climb at Snoqualmie Pass. The conservation ethic that developed in the region from enjoyment of the region’s natural beauty is strongly held today.  

Washington’s modern economy has developed directly from the Northern Pacific Land Grant used to build the railroad.  In place of public financing, the railroad received the largest federal land grant in American history – 40 million acres – every other square mile of land in a checkerboard pattern up to forty miles on either side of the right-of-way. This consolidated ownership, along with the steam technology brought by the railroad, created the booming timber industry that helped rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fueled shipbuilding in World War I.  Airplanes entering large-scale military production for the first time were built from the region’s prized spruce.  Demand for this aircraft led William Boeing in 1916 to found a company that supplies the nation’s air transportation industry today.

Plantation forestry, involving sustained-yield harvest and reforestation, now the industry standard across much of the country, was invented in this region in the 1930’s.  William Weyerhauser, having amassed one-and-a-half million acres of Washington timberland, established the first seedling industry at Snoqualmie Falls, rolled out his “Timber is a Crop!” public relations campaign, and began to manage timber across multiple harvests, a radical idea at the time.

The cultural heritage of the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area is alive in the ethnic diversity of the region’s population and its traditions, customs and celebrations, and in the museums, festivals, historic sites and interpretive trails that both residents and visitors enjoy today.  The proposed heritage area boundaries pragmatically follow modern-day political and land-management structures, a formula for long-term success as communities and their partners seek to manage, enhance, and interpret resources across this landscape.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions you or any other members of the subcommittee may have.

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