Lake retains beauty after 100 years
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
May 22, 2002
By LEE JUILLERAT
CRATER LAKE — One man’s persistence paid off.
For 17 years William Gladstone Steel generally made a pest of himself, doggedly stumping around Oregon and the halls of the nation’s capitol advocating national park status for Crater Lake.
Finally, on May 22, 1902 — 100 years ago today — President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation creating Crater Lake National Park.
A century later, it remains Oregon’s only national park, and is considered one of the National Park Service’s “crown jewels.”
More significantly, the lake remains as beautiful as ever, with its fascinating azure blue waters regarded among the world’s clearest and cleanest.
Earning national park status was largely due to Steel, the “Father of Crater Lake National Park.”
Legend says Steel’s fascination with the lake began in 1870 when he was a 16-year-old Kansas schoolboy. In tales that were likely embellished, it’s said he had unwrapped a sandwich wrapped in a newspaper and glanced at a short story about a lake set inside a blown-out Cascades volcano. Steel supposedly declared his intention to visit the lake and have lunch on the island within the water-filled caldera.
It was 1885, 15 years later, when Steel finally munched a sandwich on the island he named Wizard Island.
After that first visit he described the lake as, “One of the grandest points of interest on earth. Here all the ingenuity of nature seems to have been exerted to the full capacity, to build one grand, awe-inspiring temple within which to live and from which to gaze up on the surrounding world.”
Steel wasn’t the first person dazzled by the lake’s setting and deep blue color. John Wesley Hillman, who on June 12, 1853, had been the first non-Indian to view the lake, later wrote, “I knew when I gazed upon Crater Lake that even though the West was filled with undiscovered wonders, Crater Lake would hold its own.”
Hillman called the lake “Deep Blue Lake.”
But for generations of Klamath Indians, who witnessed its creation 7,700 years ago, the lake had a been place of spirituality and power. They called the lake Giiwaas.
The lake formed after the eruption of an ancient volcano later known as Mount Mazama. In a series of blasts that geologists say were 42 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens explosions, the volcano’s wall collapsed inward and formed a sealed caldera. Over the following years the massive basin, which has no outlets or inlets, gradually filled with water. Studies done two years ago have set the lake’s maximum depth at 1,943 feet, making it the nation’s deepest and the world’s seventh-deepest lake.
Klamaths and other tribes immortalized the lake’s creation in a story of a battle between Llao, the powerful monster who lived in the mountain, and Skell, a mythical hero. The lake was a place where those seeking special powers visited and swam.
After Hillman, others periodically “discovered” the lake. Several names were proposed, but it was Crater Lake that eventually took hold.
Steel, who avowed to protect the lake after his first visit, feared that sheep grazing and logging would threaten the lake’s adjacent forests. He convinced President Grover Cleveland to have lands withdrawn from development in 1886.
Steel’s quest is being remembered through the play, “Resolutions: William Gladstone Steel and Crater Lake National Park,” which will be performed in Medford tonight and throughout the region in coming months.
The play is just part of a larger celebration that will include an exhibition of Crater Lake art at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, an employee reunion, a Crater Lake symposium, books and a commemorative license plate.
Although today marks the actual anniversary — which included ceremonies in Salem, where Gov. John Kitzhaber proclaimed today Crater Lake National Park Day for the state — the highlight ceremonies will wait until Aug. 25 for rededication ceremonies at the park. Holding ceremonies today would have been risky, as evidenced by this week’s frequent snow at the park.
“We’re planning a ceremony that will be meaningful and set the tone for the next 100 years,” says park Superintendent Chuck Lundy.
Along with the birthday celebration, Lundy is directing the park toward a new role as a center of scientific research and education for elementary school to postgraduate students. The old superintendent’s residence will be converted into the headquarters for a Crater Lake Science and Learning Center while an adjacent residence will be redesigned as a living space for visiting scientists and teachers.
Improvements done last summer will further spruce up the park’s Rim Village area. The Sinnott Memorial overlook will reopen with $500,000 in new geological and historical exhibits. The Rim Visitor Center, formerly the Kizer Photo Studio, has been upgraded. Artwork created by 50 artists who had park residencies in 2000-2001 will be displayed at the renovated Community House.
Future plans call for $8 million worth of changes. The Rim Village area will be redesigned so that the parking lot between the lake and cafeteria-gift shop no longer dominates the view. Many services will be relocated off the rim to Mazama village. A planned two-story visitor center will be high enough so that winter visitors can see over the snow banks to the lake.
“The Centennial will celebrate one of our nation’s oldest parks and serve as a testament to the courage and determination of Steel and countless others who have been involved in the preservation of this natural treasure,” promises Lundy.
Steel would surely love the attention generated by today’s anniversary and the year-long Centennial, for himself and the park.