The late night indoor scene last week at the Roanoke bar on Capitol Hill revolved around plans for America’s great outdoors, visits to the "crown jewels" of our national park system.

The "crown jewels" contribute mightily to our country’s psyche, but also substantially to its economy.

At one table, Seattle political activist Derek Richards was scoping out an early summer camping trip he is leading to Yellowstone National Park. I broke in recalling an awesome eruption of the Steamboat Geyser, which has been sending clouds of steam into the sky this spring.

A Boeing 314 Clipper, with Mt. Rainier in the background, ca. 1938. – Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

I was fiddling with a query received this time each year, from old Baby Boomer friends wanting to escape the industrial Midwest (or D.C.) and visit Washington’s units of the park system. Usually, they are turned on by Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks, but have to be educated about the North Cascades.

A group of men and women at the mouth of Paradise Glacier, Mt. Rainier. – Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

a group of people standing on the side of a snow covered mountain: A group of men and women at the mouth of Paradise Glacier, Mt. Rainier.

Each group is nourishing the soul, and the American economy.

Photo show two boys hiking with backpacks, 1955. Olympic Peninsula. – Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

a man standing on the side of a snow covered mountain: Photo show two boys hiking with backpacks, 1955. Olympic Peninsula.

By looking at a just-out study, I can say Derek & Co. will be contributing to what in 2017 was $18.2 billion in direct spending by 330 million park visitors across the country. The spending supported 330,000 jobs, 255,000 of them in so-called Gateway communities.

1920-1930, Mt. St. Helens. This region will be open by the new road for the travel of 1927. The Fore… – Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

a view of a body of water with a mountain in the background: 1920-1930, Mt. St. Helens. This region will be open by the new road for the travel of 1927. The Forest Service have reserved all of the remaining shore line of the lake for camp purposes. Originally there were some summer camp sites allotted but the travel to the lake has become so heavy that it has been necessary to withhold all of the land for the accommodations of the public.

A friend and I also contributed last summer, staying at a Native American-owned lodge in Cherokee, North Carolina, that gave us quick access up to 6,643-foot Clingman’s Dome, highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, awesome at sunrise or sunset.

In turn, my Baby Boomers will be part of what totaled 8.4 million visitors in 2017 to Washington’s national park system units, which supported 6,540 jobs.

We have, surprisingly, 15 National Park System units in Washington state, embracing wild beaches and rain forests, a 14,410-foot volcano, spires of the "American Alps," a nuclear reactor, and a 90-mile-long reservoir populated by houseboats.

Derek and his young friends can camp, as can a member of my family set to celebrate his college graduation by climbing in Grand Teton National Park. The Baby Boomers want to stay indoors.

Prominent Washington women have a history with the Tetons. Future U.S. Rep. Jolene Unsoeld was the first woman to scale the north face of 13,770-foot Grand Teton. Husband Willi was a climbing guide. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell climbed the Grand while on a 2012 campaign foray to Jackson, Wyoming.

Photo of James Helbold Christie, one of 1st explorers of Olympic Peninsula [after 1886-1888]. – Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

The biggest financial impact of the parks — lodging and camping. Visitors spent $5.5 billion last year, a third of park spending.

I’ve developed a benchmarks for the Boomers. As Horace Greeley put it, "Go West." Drive out to Kalaloch Lodge in the coastal strip of Olympic National Park. Go to sleep to the sound of pounding surf. Going or coming, stop at Lake Quinault Lodge: Eat in the dining room where President Franklin Roosevelt, entranced by the rain forest, resolved to create the great national park.

Photo shows a man, woman, and girl beside Baker Lake. A camping tent is at the far right, and a stat… – Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

The next challenge is getting Boomers to set aside time to fly up or take the Lady of the Lake up to Stehekin at the head of Lake Chelan. Hang out in a gorgeous place. Take the Park Service shuttle up to High Bridge. Do the easy two-plus mile hike to Agnew Creek Gorge.

The route of the Silver Skis race changed slightly in 1936 from its original course set in 1934. The… – Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

Or . . . I send them over the North Cascades Highway, possibly with a hike up to Maple Pass with views of our wilderness volcano, 10,541-foot Glacier Peak. Stay at the Mazama Country Inn. Time your visit to the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival in late July-early August.

If the Boomers have lots of time, there are bluffs of one-of-a-kind Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve on Whidbey Island, or even tour a World War II vintage nuclear reactor — it made the plutonium used in the Nagasaki bomb — at the Manhattan Project National Historical Park outside Richland.

As a Baby Boomer, brought up in Bellingham, I witnessed a furious battle over creation of the North Cascades National Park, and later addition of Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches to Olympic Park.

County commissioners railed against "locking up" what they called "productive forests." The economy of their counties would be ruined. Logging trucks lined up in protest. Seeking to shield economic impacts of log exports, the timber industry cynically touted value of valleys it knew were not economical to log.

Photograph of a Washington beach bordering the Pacific, located on the Olympic Peninsula, ca. 1960. … – Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

Why would visit such places as a North Cascades National Park. "Mountain climbers and bird watchers" said an op-ed writer in the Seattle Times.

What nonsense! Our parks and wildlands are a magnet for people from across America. The Olympics, for instance, draw people seeking to hear the Pacific Ocean, and experience the quiet of the rain forest.

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The best storm-watching destinations in the Northwest

Our setting is a prime draw of the new technology economy. Parking lots at popular trailheads are overflowing. The Park Service has a reservation system for back country camping. So popular are the famed Enchantment Lakes above Leavenworth that the U.S. Forest Service runs a lottery.

The idea of national parks was America’s gift to the world.

This photo shows four tourists standing at the base of Nisqually Glacier in May 1915. – Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

We treasure these "crown jewels," and natural places have proven to be economic engines, as Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service demonstrate in their study.

I hope Steamboat Geyser takes into account the contribution that Derek & Co. are making to the economy, and gives full vent out of appreciation.

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