A Review of Crown Jewel Wilderness by Lauren Danner

by | Dec 10, 2017 | Books

About Crown Jewel Wilderness by Lauren Danner

Have you ever wondered how your favorite national parks came to be? Specifically, do you know what forces were in play when the boundary of your favorite national park was formed? In her new book, author Lauren Danner takes these questions as they apply to one of her favorite parks. She spent countless hours researching, interviewing stakeholders, and exploring North Cascades National Park. In the end, she weaves together a chronological story about the exploration, protection, and management of the parkland. However, it goes well beyond a research paper to share fascinating stories that directly impacted the park. Details on how a chance meeting in a cafe influenced a major grassroots movement and how in-fighting between the US Forest Service and National Park Service severely delayed the formation of the park are just a few of these tales. This book will have park lovers planning a visit to North Cascades National Park and digging deeper into the history of other parks and public lands. 

Author Lauren Danner first fell in love with national parks as a child and continues to champion and explore public lands from her home base in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to her book, she writes frequently at www.laurendanner.com, in op-ed’s, and on social media about public lands, outdoor recreation, and the environment. You can also connect with Lauren on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Crown Jewel Wilderness from the publisher, Washington State University Press.

Personal Reflections on Crown Jewel Wilderness

As excited as I was to receive a copy of Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park in the mail, I was also a little nervous for two reasons. First, having only spent roughly 8 hours in North Cascades National Park a few summers ago, I wasn’t sure if I would have the necessary preexisting knowledge to follow along with the details in the book. Thankfully, this fear was quickly dispelled after the introduction when I realized that pretty much anyone can pick the book up, even if they have never set foot within the park. Second, I’m not a big fan of history books. I like to experience historical places, but I’m not as keen to pick up a book about them. In fact, I frequently ask my history-buff husband for “3 minutes summaries” on topics I want to know more about, lol. That being said, I found Lauren’s writing style is easy to digest through her mixing of historical facts/events with stories of influential characters. 

Today, roughly a million people visit the North Cascades National Park Service Complex (NCNPSC) each year. The NCNPSC offers a wide variety of activities and experiences for people of all skills and adventure levels. The majestic setting of the American Alps is the perfect backdrop for a scenic drive, an alpine hike, an afternoon on the water with friends, or even a day spent wildlife viewing. Few visitors likely realize that what they call “North Cascades National Park” is in fact actually made up of three units: North Cascades National Park, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, and Ross Lake National Recreation Area.

As Ms. Danner notes in her introduction, “On contemporary maps, the North Cascades are a patchwork quilt of land-use designations in discrete green hues, each boundary line the result of political negotiation and compromise.” The story she tells is of those negotiations and compromises, and how the park came to be despite a years long fight between conservationists, federal agencies, state agencies, special interest groups, and local citizens. By the end of the book, readers have an understanding of how these three units were formed, why compromise was necessary, and why one should never give up fighting for something they believe in. While I don’t want to over share details, I did want to share a few themes in that personally resonated with me as I read and reflected on Lauren Danner’s Crown Jewel Wilderness.

Do Designations Matter?

I’ve been a National Park Service fangirl for years. Growing up we spent many summers working our way through the 59 current (capital letter) National Parks. Along the way, we visited other National Park Service units and state parks, but they weren’t our primary focus. Sadly, I can’t recall a single time when we stopped to enjoy a National Forest. I’m sure we did at some point, but I honestly can’t remember doing so.

As I read Crown Jewel Wilderness, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d been putting the US Forest Service on the backburner. Any given day and twice on Sunday, I would have said that the National Park Service was the best option for handing our public lands. After reading the book, however, I now feel that I am better able to weigh different land uses and designations equally. A specific designation or who it will be managed by is no longer as important to me as the terms of how the land will be used. 

Why Park History is Important

It wasn’t until I moved and had a national park just down the road that I ever really wondered about the origins of a park beyond what I learned in a visitor center. What forces were in play when the park boundary was formed? What set that specific patch of land apart from the land outside the park boundary? Was it the majestic scenery, was it the opportunity for recreation, or was it formed to protect something of cultural significance?

After reading Crown Jewel Wilderness, I feel strongly that supporters of national parks and public lands should dive deeper into their history to be more effective supporters. We can better understand what types of activities are allowed by the designation’s land-use and can tailor our campaigns (and donations) to uses that are allowed by policy. There are also many lessons to be learned on establishing new parks and public lands. The stories of NCNPSC and Shenandoah National Park are nearly complete opposites. In the case of NCNPSC, it was largely a fight around single vs multiple-use. However, in Shenandoah land was forcibly taken from hundreds of families and people are still (rightfully) upset about it today. 

Fighting the Good Fight

These are trying times for public lands supporters as we face an administration that has pretty much reversed course from previous administrations by opening our public lands to outside interests. In her book, Ms. Danner details stories of timber and mining interests that closely mirror the oil, grazing, and mining interests that threaten our public lands today. While each public land unit has unique threats, we are facing a time of crisis when as a whole, they are in danger. While I have found some solace in the way the North Cascades area was protected, I am still concerned about the future of our public lands. Our current administration’s options to scale back boundaries and change designations as a favor of industry should be very concerning to all. As such, it is so important that we all take a stand today to keep our public lands protected for future generations. 


Early in the book, Ms. Danner tells the story of how three Seattle mountaineers met a woman picking up her mail in a Stehekin cafe. This serendipitous meeting would bring the three hikers, the woman, and her husband together to help spearhead the conservation movement in the Cascades. This meeting made me think of all the nature-focused serendipitous meetings I have had in my life. Specifically, the close-knit group of people I have met on Twitter through the #ParkChat, #HikerChat, and #GearMeOut communities. These folks, including Ms. Danner herself, have helped me to become more vocal in support of our parks and public lands. They have given me the confidence to contact my representatives, share my concerns publically, and recognize that everyone has a voice, even if they don’t want to shout from the rooftops. I am thankful every day that I stumbled upon these groups. 

Read With A Notebook Handy

While reading nonfiction, I usually keep a small notebook and pen handy to jot down anything of interest. This proved to be especially helpful as I read Crown Jewel Wilderness. By the end of the book, I had a list of places to go on my next visit to NCNPSC that included Rainbow Falls, Horseshoe Basin, Stehekin, Glacier Peak, and Mt. Baker among others. I also had a significant list of people to look-up including notable NCNPSC figures Gifford Pinochet, Grant McConnell, David Brower, and Patrick Goldsworth. Thanks to Ms. Danner’s extensive footnotes, I also found several other books I have added to my to-read list as well. 

Favorite Quotes

“… if you enjoy wild places, you are responsible for helping to preserve them.” – THIS. SO MUCH THIS. The attack on our public lands has never been so apparent as it is under the current administration. We should all take these words of wisdom from Patrick Goldsworthy to heart. 

“Every new proposal to develop wilderness made clearer the inadequacy of current protection.” – Not only are we currently facing bleak times, I am frustrated to know that this issue still has not been resolved. There is an immeasurable need for wilderness protection, revitalization, and let us not forget the $12 billion maintenance backlog in the NPS. Ugh.

“There is much to be done. And we are losing ground… The domain of nature shrinks before the demands of commerce.” – Reading this passage about President Johnson’s appeal was a bit heartbreaking. Again, so many themes from this book are relevant in these troubling times. 

Would I Recommend It?

Yes! I highly recommend Crown Jewel Wilderness for national park nerds, public land advocates, and historians alike. Ms. Danner has dusted-off the historical files and shares with us a story about the people, agencies, and industries that fought for (and against) the creation of what would become the North Cascades National Park complex. Her point of view allows us to champion alongside the grassroots movements, express bewilderment and frustration with the United States Forest Service and National Park Service, fight on Capitol Hill, and ultimately take in and truly appreciate the scenic vistas of that made the North Cascades our Crown Jewel Wilderness.


crown jewel wilderness by lauren danner

Get Your Copy of Crown Jewel Wilderness Today!

You can purchase your copy directly from the publisher, in major bookstores, or online. If shopping on Amazon, I encourage you to use my Amazon affiliate link. By using my Amazon’s affiliate link, you receive the book at the normal Amazon rate and Amazon pays me a few cents for the referral. I, in turn, use that change to help offset the cost of hosting my blog.  


Mrs. NatureTechFam won the free copy of Crown Jewel Wilderness!

Thank you to all who entered my free giveaway of Lauren Danner’s Crown Jewel Wilderness! For those of you reading this after the giveaway ended, I love a good giveaway and when I love something, I always want to share it. So, I purchased a copy of Crown Jewel Wilderness and will be giving it away to one lucky reader. Author Lauren Danner has even agreed to sign the copy for the winner! 

Again, thank you to all of those who entered and keep your eye on the blog as I have new giveaways in the works!


Interested in more book reviews? Check out my other book reviews

By Sara Beth

Sara Beth is a wanderlust soul who is focused on simplistic and mindful living. She is passionate about National Parks, road trips, and board games. Her early years were spent in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. After graduating from university, she moved to Las Vegas, fell in love, and adopted a dog. Today, she lives with her husband and their dog in the suburbs of Washington, DC.

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