Despite the multiplicity of means of communication today, many people still conceive of the State of Washington as virtually a frontier wilderness, accessible only to the rugged and the adventurous. This impression derives in part no doubt from the State's geographic location, in part from its historical association with an Indian war, and in part also from frontier fiction, which usually offers an exaggerated, romantic account of pioneers, cowboys, lumberjacks, and desperadoes.
Two hundred years ago, this region was largely unexplored. The eastern section was a semiarid plateau of rolling hills covered with sagebrush and bunchgrass, the habitat of prairie dogs, coyotes, and rattlesnakes. Here Indians roamed, hunted, and fished. Through these sun-drenched barrens, the majestic Columbia River cut its way to the Pacific Ocean. Forests of lodgepole and ponderosa pine, fir, and tamarack ascended the northern highlands and the eastern slope of the Cascades. On the more humid western side of the range, another dense forest of spruce, Douglas fir, cedar, and hemlock swept down to the coast, unbroken except for Indian trails and occasional prairies and lowland valleys, and somber save when brightened by pink rhododendrons, the shimmering white of dogwood trees in flower, the golden catkins of maple and alder, or in some localities the flame of autumn leaves.
Within these forests, bear, deer, elk, and cougar were plentiful, and the many lakes and rivers, abounding in fish, were frequented by beaver, mink, and otter. Grouse and ptarmigan whirred across the uplands, ducks sought the sheltered waters of inland lakes, and geese honked along the rivers and lowland marshes. Coastal waters and the larger streams teemed with salmon; blackfish and porpoise sported in the Sound and Strait, and whale spouted offshore.
Something of this primitive condition remains today. The visitor to the Evergreen State can still find magnificent virgin forests, vocal with the songs of many birds. He can follow miles of woodland trails and enjoy the beauty of mountain summits, deep gorges, turbulent streams with cascading waterfalls, and clear alpine lakes, mirroring snowcapped peaks and tree-lined shores. He can scale rugged mountains or traverse blue-white glaciers, made dangerous by deep crevasses. He can find many a secluded lake or stream or saltwater channel, where he can test his skill with rod and reel; he can try his luck at bagging a deer, a bear, or a cougar in the pathless wilds. He can drive through deep canyons or along surf-pounded beaches; he can pilot his motorboat through the maze of channels of Puget Sound, or sail before a spanking breeze among hundreds of enchanting islands.
Interesting, too, are the historic relics of the conquest of this wilderness: early mission houses, forts, blockhouses, and other pioneer buildings; the crumbling tombstones in lonely prairie cemeteries; markers on old trails; war canoes, tomahawks, arrowheads, feathered headdresses, and other mementos of the culture of the Indians, whose descendants now live on reservations. All these are a part of the great epic of the march of the pioneer. To see them is to gain a clearer understanding of the history of the Nation.
In the course of the rapid development of the State, the country has been greatly altered. Forests have been cut, leaving vast scarred and denuded areas; grasslands have been broken and planted to wheat; and the arid range, now the feeding ground of cattle and sheep, has been enclosed with barbed-wire fences. Desert lands have been converted by means of irrigation into productive gardens, orchards, and alfalfa tracts. Trains and automobiles now speed where native trails once ran, steamships and ferries ply waters formerly crossed only by primitive dugouts, and airplanes hum overhead. Factories and mills stand where Indians set their weirs; and on the sites of communal Indian villages, large modern cities, with clean, well-lighted streets and tree-lined boulevards, have been built.
On every side lies tangible evidence of the toll that this general and haphazard development of the country has taken; but works designed for the conservation and reclamation of depleted resources are also to be met with everywhere. Selective logging methods have supplanted to a considerable extent the wasteful methods of former years, and a carefully planned system of reforestation of logged-off and burned-over lands, in conjunction with the establishing of extensive national forests, bears promise of the intelligent utilization of existing stands of timber and the partial replacement of those that have been removed. The mighty Grand Coulee Dam and other major power developments, such as the Bonneville, the Skagit, and the Cushman projects were completed and in service in the early forties. The Columbia River Irrigation Project assures the reclamation of more than a million acres of sagebrush country, and a greatly increased agricultural output. Meanwhile, the needs of fish propagation have been provided for in dam construction, with ingenious fish ladders to facilitate the migration upstream of the spawning horde; thus assuring a continued commercial fish pack for the lower Columbia and perpetual sport for the angler. Through the years many national and state parks have been spread over lands withdrawn from commercial use and dedicated to the enjoyment and inspirational needs of man. All of these measures are expressive of a people with broad vision and with the capacity for significant, long-range planning.