The Skagit River may just be the state’s most beautiful river.
The 150-mile-long river flows through North Cascades wilderness, forested hillsides, and the open valleys and farmlands of Skagit County on its way to Puget Sound. Its pristine blue-green waters and cottonwood-lined river banks provide habitat for salmon and eagles.
Soon you’ll be able to send the Skagit’s unique beauty in the mail along with your letters and birthday cards, or just add to your stamp collection.
The Skagit River will be featured on a U.S. Postal Service forever stamp this year.
The Skagit will be one of a dozen rivers pictured in a Wild and Scenic Rivers stamp book to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which protects more than 12,700 miles of our free-flowing rivers.
The Skagit River stamp features a photo taken by Tim Palmer, an Oregon landscape photographer who specializes in photographing rivers.
“Photographing rivers is definitely my thing,” said Palmer, who has been taking photos of rivers for 45 years. “Rivers are the lifelines on which so much else depends.”
Palmer, 70, took the photo featured on the stamp during a canoe trip from Marblemount to La Conner in the fall of 2017.
In the picture, a glacier-capped Mount Baker towers over the river. It’s a shot Palmer took special care to get.
Eight miles from where the Sauk River flows into the Skagit, Palmer found the only spot on the river where you can clearly see Mount Baker. He decided to camp right there on a gravel bank and wait for the perfect light to capture the river-to-mountain view with his camera.
Palmer couldn’t believe his luck. The iconic peak often is cloaked in clouds, but when he stopped for photos, there wasn’t one cloud in the sky.
It was breathtaking.
“That is the one place on the 100-mile river where you really get a killer view of Baker,” he said. “It’s extraordinary.”
Palmer is one of three photographers whose work is featured in the Wild and Scenic Rivers series. His photos of the Snake River in Idaho and Oregon, Flathead River in Montana and Ontonagon River in Michigan also were selected for the stamp collection.
Of Palmer’s stamps, the Skagit photograph is his favorite.
“I was really drawn to the Skagit photo,” he said. “The river is just extremely beautiful and photogenic.”
By the 1960s, it was clear that decades of damming, development and diversion had taken their toll on our nation’s rivers. As concern mounted over the loss of free-flowing rivers, Congress decided to intervene. Thus the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 was signed into law to preserve forever some of the nation’s invaluable rivers.
The Skagit was the first river in Washington state to be protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, in 1978.
Today, 209 rivers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico are protected by the act. That might seem like a lot, but it’s not; less than a quarter of 1 percent of America’s rivers are protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. By comparison, dams have blocked about 17 percent of American rivers.
In the Skagit watershed, a total of 158.5 miles of river are protected, including the Skagit River, from Bacon Creek near Marblemount to Sedro-Woolley, plus three tributaries — the Sauk, Suiattle and Cascade rivers. The protected part of the Skagit lies just downstream from three dams operated by Seattle City Light.
Six of Washington’s rivers are now recognized by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Five more were added after 1978 — Illabot Creek, Klickitat River, Pratt River, Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River and White Salmon River. With the Skagit River, they total 197 miles of the state’s 70,439 miles of rivers and streams.
A ‘river lover’
Palmer is an award-winning author, photographer and river conservationist. With tens of thousands of photos of rivers, he has one of the most complete collections of river photography in the United States.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from Pennsylvania State University, Palmer worked for eight years as a planner on land use and environmental topics from 1971 to 1980. He then made writing and photography his life’s career.
Palmer, who lives in Port Orford, Oregon, has since published 26 books on rivers, conservation and the environment, including “The Wild and Scenic Rivers of America.”
“I’m kind of the authority on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” he said. “I’ve written the only books on the subject.”
In fact, when the Postal Service was working on its Wild and Scenic Rivers stamp book, planners checked their research with him.
Two of Palmer’s books, “Wild and Scenic Rivers: An American Legacy” and “America’s Great River Journeys: 50 Canoe, Kayak, and Raft Adventures,” feature chapters on the Skagit River.
A self-described “river lover,” Palmer has canoed, kayaked or rafted on more than 300 rivers in the United States and Canada. He lived for 22 years in his van, traveling throughout North America to do research, writing and photography for his books.
His work — including magazine articles, studies and brochures on river conservation — has led to the preservation of the Kings River and the South Yuba River in California.
As a landscape photographer, Palmer is drawn to rivers because they’re the only part of the scenery that moves.
“They’re the dynamic part of the landscape,” he said. “The rest is basically a still life out there, but the rivers are always alive.”
According to a U.S. Postal Service spokesman, all of the rivers honored with a stamp hold “scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or similar values.”
The 12 stamps, which don’t have a release date yet, represent the nearly 210 rivers protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.
“These exceptional American rivers run freely throughout landscapes without man-made alterations and have contributed greatly to this country’s growth and success,” wrote U.S. Postal Service spokesman Roy Betts in an email to Washington North Coast Magazine. “These are among the best of our nation’s rivers.”
Betts said the addition of a Skagit River stamp to the Wild and Scenic Rivers collection was an easy choice.
“Skagit River deserves this high recognition among these American treasures because of its unique beauty and (because it) was the first river in the state of Washington to receive the Wild and Scenic designation,” he wrote.
So, what about Snohomish County’s own Stillaguamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish and Skykomish rivers? Why weren’t any of them turned into a stamp?
They’re not protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act yet.
“I have pictures of all of them,” Palmer said. “Those are all really notable rivers that are significant in their own ways and certainly deserve protection in their own right.”
The river stamps
Here’s a list of the 12 Wild and Scenic rivers that will appear in the 2019 forever stamp collection.
◆ Merced River, California
◆ Owyhee River, Oregon
◆ Koyukuk River, Alaska
◆ Niobrara River, South Dakota/Nebraska
◆ Snake River, Idaho/Oregon
◆ Flathead River, Montana
◆ Missouri River, Montana/South Dakota/Nebraska
◆ Skagit River, Washington
◆ Deschutes River, Oregon
◆ Tlikakila River, Alaska
◆ Ontonagon River, Michigan
◆ Clarion River, Pennsylvania
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the spring issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.