CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Interpretation In Crater Lake National Park: 1916-Present

Crater Lake National Park: Administrative History by Harlan D. Unrau and Stephen Mark, 1987

 CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Interpretation In Crater Lake National Park: 1916-Present

While Crater Lake National Park did not provide organized interpretive or educational activities until 1926, some efforts were made in the early 1920s to provide visitors with information on the natural history of the park. In 1922, for instance, Superintendent Sparrow observed that an “ever-increasing interest in nature studies is manifested by visitors to the park, and a book on the botany of the park, giving descriptions and illustrations that would enable the layman, as well as scientific botanists, to identify the various flowers and trees, is in demand.” [1]

In 1924 Superintendent Thomson made provision for the University of Oregon to assign F. Lyle Wynd, a 22-year-old student, to conduct nature studies at Crater Lake. He initiated “a study of willows as to the availability of feed for ruminants” in the various valleys of the park. Besides conducting the study in 1924 and 1925 Wynd served, according to Thomson, as a “flunkey,” becoming generally acquainted with the park flora, fauna, and geology. [2]

Organized interpretive activities, or educational/naturalist services as they were first called, were commenced at Crater Lake National Park during the summer of 1926. At the request of Ansel Hall, chief naturalist of the National Park Service, Dr. Loye Miller, an eminent naturalist from the University of California, organized such services which extended from July 1 to August 15. Miller, who had helped initiate an educational program at Yosemite, was appointed as acting park naturalist. He was assisted at Crater Lake by his son Alden H. Miller and two students, Leigh M. Larson and Ruth Randall, the latter two acting as volunteers in charge of wildflower displays. Some years later Miller would reminisce humorously about his early experiences at Crater Lake:

Just as had been the case at Yosemite, we were appointed as rangers. My duties at Crater Lake included Nature Guiding, directing traffic, comforting crying babies, rounding up stray dogs, and a wild drive down the mountain to Medford Hospital with a writhing appendicitis patient and his distracted wife in the rear seat. [3]

The embryonic naturalist staff was stationed in Rim Village with headquarters in the Community House. In addition to manning the visitor information desk in that building the staff prepared a series of exhibits, including a fifty-specimen bird collection, a small rock collection, and a plant display featuring thirty species of wildflowers and six conifers. The staff also began printing “Park Nature Notes” for distribution to park visitors.

During 1926 the staff headed by Miller made personal contacts with more than 6,000 visitors. Nightly lectures (except Sunday) were given at Crater Lake Lodge and the Community House on such subjects as the geologic history of the Cascade Range, formation of Mt. Mazama and Crater Lake, glacial action in the park, geology of Llao Rock, history of Wizard Island, forest trees and diseases, flora and fauna of the area, and lantern slides of the Cascades and Crater Lake. Daily guided “field excursions” (except Monday) began at the Community House and went on various routes: both directions along the rim; through the meadows toward Government Camp; along the old road east of the lodge leading toward Government Camp; and through the forest back of the Community House. [4]

The Nature Guide Service, as it came to be called, was continued by Miller in 1927. He was assisted by his son, who was promoted to temporary ranger naturalist, and Leigh Merriam-Larson, a volunteer assistant. That year Superintendent Thomson reported:

This work is, beyond question, the most popular and worthwhile service ever accomplished at Crater Lake, and I am hopeful of seeing its usefulness expanded by more adequate personnel and at least some minor equipment.

The naturalist program remained much as it had the previous year except that daily field excursions were commenced at the lodge to promote greater visitor participation.[5]