Upper Skagit Watershed

The Upper Skagit Watershed photography illustrates Seattle City Light activities and development of the hydroelectric projects over more than half a century. These images document the changing landscape, human activities, natural history, and wildlife of the Skagit River and its tributary watersheds. This visual record is invaluable for understanding the natural, social, and economic forces that have shaped the region. The following is a small sampling of the Upper Skagit images in the Seattle Municipal Archives photograph database.

Scenery and the Natural Environment

The Upper Skagit Watershed is a pristine wilderness of rugged mountains, deep canyons, dense forests, and wild rivers and creeks. In addition, North Cascades National Park encompasses 25 percent of the glaciers in the United States; many of those are found in the upper watershed area. The images below are a sampling of the photography that documents the beauty of the area.

 Skagit view, 1935<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 13143  Upper Skagit Valley near Ruby, 1919<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 2085  Ross Lake from Cascade Wagon Road Location on Happy Creek Flats, 1961<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 14130
 Purple flowers, palmate leaves, 1989<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 21999  Two Western Red Cedars at Big Beaver Creek, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, 1969<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 21693


The Upper Skagit Watershed is home to an astonishing array of wildlife including blacktail deer, black and brown bears, cougars, mountain goats, a variety of birds, and small forest animals such as beaver and squirrels. The images below provide a sampling of the wildlife in the area.

 Deer at falls, 1939<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 13245  Bear cub on path, 1939<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 18568 Bird on branch, 1976<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 22253
 Bald eagle in tree, 1989<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 21945  Chipmunk, 1976<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 22254


The Upper Skagit Watershed falls within several federally and provincially protected and managed lands. In the United States these include North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Pasayten Wilderness, and Okanogan National Forest. The Canadian jurisdictions are Skagit Provincial Forest, Skagit Valley Provincial Recreation Area, and E.C. Manning Provincial Park.

These areas support a variety of recreational activities including extensive back country hiking trails, camping sites, boating, fishing, and mountain climbing. Virtually all of the area is remote wilderness. The southern portion of the Watershed is served by US Highway 20. Many of the recreational activities in the Watershed can be undertaken only after hiking from points on the highway or boating up Ross Lake.

The following images are a sampling of the recreational possibilities in the Watershed.

 Hiker on Pyramid Peak trip, 1939<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 13752  Thunder Arm with boy and dog in foreground, 1932<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 18779
 Ross Lake Resort, 1973<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 21469  Campsite, 1977<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 21737

Construction of Ross Dam

The construction of Ross Dam forever changed the landscape of the Upper Skagit Watershed. The proposal to erect the fourth step of the dam--often referred to as High Ross Dam--led to the international agreement that created the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission, and established the current parameters for the management of the Upper Skagit Watershed and the purchase of electrical power by the City of Seattle from the province of British Columbia.

The following images show the site of Ross Dam from pre-construction to completion of the third step.

 Ross Dam construction site from down river, 1938<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 13318  Ross Dam construction from from cliff above showing progress of concrete, 1939<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 13561
 Ross Dam construction from Diablo Reservoir, 1944<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 15083  Ross Dam, 1950<br>Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 22293

Skagit Basin Aerial Photographs

Seattle City Light conducted an aerial photographic survey of much of the Skagit Basin in July 1977. The survey was undertaken when the Federal Power Commission authorized the construction of the fourth step for Ross Dam. The raising of the dam would have raised the level of Ross Lake to the 1725 foot elevation, an increase of more than 100 feet. This would have had a profound effect on the rivers and creeks that feed the lake. The survey documented the forest cover, the topography, the courses of the creeks, and other natural features of the basin.

watershed mapKey map to aerial survey photographs

Skagit Basin Aerial Survey (follow links for photos of specified areas):

Seattle Municipal Archives Upper Skagit Watershed Photograph Project
Supported by a grant from the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission