Washington’s former governor and U.S. senator was honored Friday for a lifetime of bipartisan accomplishment with the renaming of one of his favorite places, now called the Daniel J. Evans Wilderness at Olympic National Park.

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HURRICANE RIDGE — Olympic National Park

With the Olympics resplendent behind him, former Republican Washington Gov. Dan Evans was honored Friday with the renaming of the wilderness here as the Daniel J. Evans Wilderness, a tribute to his years of public service and accomplishments protecting some of the most beloved landscapes in Washington.

Three times Washington’s governor and a U.S. senator for Washington, Evans authored the Washington State Wilderness Act protecting 1.5 million areas of wild lands, and he was instrumental in creating North Cascades National Park, the scenic corridor in the Columbia River Gorge, and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

From a podium set outdoors at Hurricane Ridge, Evans told a crowd of more than 200 that when asked how much wilderness is needed, he always had this answer: “More.”

A bipartisan crowd of dignitaries traveled to the ridge on buses for the occasion, including a current U.S. senator, tribal leaders, current and former congressmen, state representatives, two former secretaries of state, a two-time administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington’s attorney general, a county executive and longtime environmental advocates from Washington’s most celebrated wilderness campaigns.

A feast prepared by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe capped a day in which even the clouds wore rainbows of sundogs. The Makah Nation blessed the speakers’ floor with sprinkles of eagle down and a Thunderbird dance to begin the ceremony.

“Renaming this wilderness is a fitting tribute,” said Norm Dicks, former Democratic congressman for the state’s 6th District. Evans, after all, “was a singular force” for protecting some of Washington’s most cherished places, Dicks said, and always worked across the aisle. In fact, to be called a “Dan Evans Republican” still today bespeaks a high calling of bipartisanship and effectiveness in public service.

“When it came to protecting our most precious outdoor spaces, it wasn’t about Democrats or Republicans,” said Congressman Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor. “But about Washingtonians.”

For many, Evans is that rare thing — a beloved politician whose stature transcends party or generation. Naming the wilderness for Evans “puts an iconic name next to an iconic place,” said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

A lifelong passion

Flanked at the ceremony by multiple generations of his family, Evans called out thanks to many longtime staff in the audience, some wiping happy tears, and especially thanked his wife of 58 years, Nancy.

Born in Seattle in 1925, Evans learned an appreciation for wilderness early, summiting Silver Peak in the Cascades at age 12.

He rubbed his hands together in a recent interview, as if cold, when remembering that first hike. “It was in November, and we were tenderfeet, just barely 12, and then it started to rain and then it started to sleet and then it started to snow and then the snow turned horizontal, and I was thinking, ‘I never, ever, ever will do this again.’”

Climbers in a mass ascent in 1968 near the summit of Mount Adams, in south-central Washington. The lead party, including Gov. Dan Evans, in his first ascent of the 12,307-foot peak, had already arrived. (A.P)
Climbers in a mass ascent in 1968 near the summit of Mount Adams, in south-central Washington. The lead party, including Gov. Dan Evans, in his first ascent of the 12,307-foot peak, had already arrived. (A.P)

Finally, it got less steep, and they were at the top. “And what that does for you,” said Evans, whose elation built with each step of his descent. “I was feeling pretty good by the time I got home, and the story then was about how we climbed that mountain. I had forgotten all about the bad stuff.”

Evans’ lifelong passion for the mountains — and the Olympics, in particular — was kindled.

Asked what he loves about the Olympics, Evans got an enchanted, faraway look. And said: “The first thing I want to do when I am hiking in the Olympics is just get off- trail. And just be out there. And there is no visible sign that anybody has ever been there. There is something about that.”

He well remembered having been in Lost Basin with two of his sons, watching a bear graze in a meadow. “It was a sunny day, and so quiet you could hear the bees buzzing, we were so far away.”

He has climbed Mount Deception and Constance and The Brothers and Mount Olympus four times — and has personally extended himself time and again to protect some of the most beloved places in Washington.

Lake of the Angels is inside Olympic National Park today because Evans insisted on it, saying simply “Live with it” to recalcitrant Forest Service administrators.

It was Evans who personally persuaded President Gerald Ford to sign legislation creating the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Evans sat with Ford, turning pages of “The Alpine Lakes,” a large-format photo book of the area published by the Mountaineers in 1971 and hustled to Washington, D.C., by a friend to help Evans seal the deal.

“I knew the president well from a lot of previous stuff, and I sat down and started showing him the book,” Evans said in a recent interview. “And he really got into it, his staff kept coming in, saying, ‘Mr. President, Mr. President.’ I was there 45 minutes.” Before Evans left, Ford signed the book. Better yet, Ford also signed the legislation on July 12, 1976, over a request by the Forest Service to veto it.

Gov. Dan Evans as an Eagle Scout.  (Seattle Times archives)
Gov. Dan Evans as an Eagle Scout. (Seattle Times archives)

Holding the new, official National Park Service map of Olympic National Park with his name written on the wilderness area, Evans traced his fingers over beloved hikes, naming the routes, the steep ascents and favorite camps.

In a world of expensive high-tech gear and fancy smartphone apps and maps and step counters, Evans earned his old-school outdoor skills as a Boy Scout, hiking the backcountry in the days of wool clothing and tin-pan cooking over an open fire.

“We would come up a hill with our pans clanking. It was like Swiss cows on a hillside,” Evans said. No stoves, no fleece, no freeze-dried Thai food.

His REI Co-op number is 1819, and he remembers well the original store in Seattle. “We would go up there and see all this neat stuff, none of which we could afford.”

Even when in the city, a young Evans would change clothes immediately when he got home from school to play at the Laurelhurst playfield. “There was a lot more growing up out-of-doors in those days than there is now.”

Love of learning

At home, the son of a onetime King County engineer and the grandson of a state senator from Spokane learned early to be informed and involved.

After graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1943, he entered the Navy, serving as an ensign. After World War II, he studied engineering at the University of Washington, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1948 and a master’s a year later.

He returned to the Navy as a lieutenant in 1951 during the Korean War, serving until 1953.

Before entering politics, he was a civil engineer and worked as a structural engineer for the city of Seattle and in private practice.

His life in public office began in 1956, when he was elected to the state House of Representatives from Seattle’s 43rd District. Named outstanding freshman legislator that term, he was re-elected to the House three times.

Evans’ background in engineering, some have suggested, helped shape his outlook that problems, even difficult ones, can be analyzed and solved if the proper steps are taken. Indeed, his Indian name given by the Makah Tribe, of which he is an honorary member, means Step-By-Step.

The “Blueprint for Progress” he outlined in 1964 helped him become, at 39, the youngest governor in the state’s history, defeating the two-term incumbent, Democrat Albert D. Rosellini.

Education and the environment were key priorities in Evans’ three terms in office. He led a large-scale expansion of the state’s community-college system and helped strengthen the state’s four-year colleges.

In 1970, he called a special legislative session to promote environmental protection, which led to the creation of the Department of Ecology.

Not all Evans’ efforts ended in success. He was rebuffed in his advocacy for a state income tax — among the issues that put the centrist governor at odds with the increasingly conservative leaders of his own party.

After leaving the governor’s office, he served six years as president of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, famously rappelling down the campus clock tower in response to a challenge.

In 1983, after the unexpected death of longtime Democratic Sen. Henry M. Jackson, Evans was appointed by a fellow Republican, Gov. John Spellman, to temporarily fill the U.S. Senate seat.

Democrats complained that Spellman should have chosen someone from Jackson’s own party to succeed him, but Evans was a strong choice, winning the seat in a special election within months of his appointment and serving until 1988.

Evans always enjoyed honest, vigorous debate. And as a campaigner, he had few equals.

In 2000, the University of Washington’s Graduate School of Public Affairs was renamed the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance; in 2015 it became the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance.

And he has never stopped hiking, completing a 26-mile backpack to Spectacle Lake two years ago.

For him, the renaming of the wilderness — with a bipartisan, unanimous vote of the Washington congressional delegation — will always recall hundreds of hikes on several thousands of miles of trail, Evans said.

“May this wilderness always be protected, and always be enjoyed, for generations who follow us.”