Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Experience Profiles William Steel, the “Father of Crater Lake”
February 13, 2007
William Gladstone Steel was one of Oregon’s most active mountaineers and advocates for national parks and forest conservation in the Pacific Northwest. He is best known as the father of Crater Lake National Park and the founder of the Mazamas, the West Coast’s oldest continual mountaineering club. The next episode of Oregon Experience examines the life of this complex and sometimes controversial man. Tune in to the stations of Oregon Public Broadcasting on Monday, February 19 at 9pm.
He was born in 1854 in Ohio, where his parents ran an underground railroad stop. They eventually moved to Kansas and then to Portland. It was in Kansas that Steel claims to have first read about Crater Lake in a newspaper used to wrap his lunch. He vowed then to see it, and 15 years later finally did.
So awestruck by what he saw, he made it his life’s mission to preserve the lake as a national park. He was dedicated, passionate and annoying. After 17 years of hard work, Steel’s efforts paid off. On May 22, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill making Crater Lake a national park. But once the park was established, Steel felt it had to be developed in order for people to enjoy it. He pushed for better roads, secured financing for a grand lodge and even wanted to build a bridge to Wizard Island in Crater Lake.
Despite his ideas for development, he was also a dedicated conservationist. Steel was one of the original founders of the Mazamas. In 1894 an advertisement was placed in local papers inviting interested, serious mountaineers to join the charter climb. More than 300 people encamped on the flanks of Mt. Hood on July 18. By 8am the next day, the first climbing party reached the summit, followed by the rest of the 193 men and women who were able to summit that day.
William Gladstone Steel was complex and controversial and an important force for preserving the Cascade Range as we know it today.
About Oregon Experience
Oregon Experience is an exciting new history series on OPB TV that brings to life fascinating stories that help us understand who we are and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. The series, co-produced by the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon Public Broadcasting, takes advantage of the extensive film, video and stills from the archives of OHS and OPB, and draws upon the expertise of OHS researchers and historians. Each half-hour show features captivating characters — both familiar and forgotten — who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home.
Funding for Oregon Experience is provided in part by Ann & Bill Swindells Charitable Trust, James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, Robert C. and Nani S. Warren Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust.