04 NPS Government Camp, 1924-1941

Cultural Landscape Recommendations: Park Headquarters at Munson Valley, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon


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Increased visitation to Crater Lake National Park and the use of the site as seasonal quarters for park staff led park officials to make Munson Valley a summer headquarters for park operations in 1924. Within a year of moving to the site from Annie Springs, an addition was made to the former engineer’s office, and the building was converted to serve as the park administration building. Though the site provided much needed space, it was soon apparent that the complex was inadequate for the park’s needs. In 1925, as part of a park-wide planning program under the direction of Thomas Vint, work was underway on a general master plan for redevelopment of the site. The planned development took “…advantage of topography and forest screening to place out of sight almost every building that is not of direct concern to the visitor.”

NPS Government Camp, c.1930

NPS Government Camp, looking north, 1934

Administration building and plaza, looking north, c.1935

Thus, at Government Camp, the only building that will be in sight when this program is finished will be the Administration Building, the Museum [Ranger Dormitory] and Service Station [removed in favor of the present one]…”(2). Implementation of the master plan for Munson Valley began in 1927. The major components of the plan included the development of a new administrative complex, utility and maintenance area, residential areas for staff and seasonal employees, a formalized circulation system, and a revegetation program for the site as a whole. Initial construction focused on basic services and operations. Between 1927 and 1930, four small cottages, a mess hall, comfort station, meat house, warehouse and two utility buildings were constructed. The road from Munson Valley to the rim was relocated to its present location early in the development of the site (ca 1927), but the majority of other roads, pedestrian walks and trails, and bridle trails remained informal in character. Structures were rustic in character. Over scaled elements such as locally quarried stone and timber were used to blend, in scale and color, with the surrounding trees and rough terrain. The 1931 master plan outlined the need for as many as 21 additional buildings in addition to extensive road improvements, utilities, and plantings, but it wasn’t until the 1932-1933 season that intensive development in the district was undertaken.

With the realignment of the road to the rim, and the new design for the plaza, there was need for general revision of the road system throughout the district. The main entrance road was moved so that entry to the site was from the east. The old road was obliterated and planted. Secondary roads provided access throughout the site, linking residential areas, service areas, and the utility area. These roads were surfaced with gravel and then oiled to reduce dust and provide an improved driving surface. The trail to the Lady of the Woods was also surfaced with gravel.

In the 1932-33 construction season, several major buildings and site structures were built. Two large residences–a superintendent’s house and a naturalist’s house–were completed, along with four utility buildings, a comfort station, additional employee residences and a dormitory for the rangers.

In 1934 the old log administration building was removed and construction of a new rustic stone administrative structure was underway. Stone curbing was set along the roads through the center of the site creating a circular drive and a more defined and structured circulation system. The plaza in front of the new administration building was designed to accommodate 50 cars, and had a large elliptical planting island in the center. This area was planted based on a design by landscape architect Francis Lange, and included 13 varieties of plants. Additional landscape work was done around the cottages on the hill above the plaza. Structural additions to the Mess Hall and Warehouse as well as the construction of a garage/woodshed and three frame storage sheds were all completed in this construction season.

Major landscape work was undertaken over the 1933- 34 construction seasons. Over a thousand trees and several thousand shrubs were transplanted to the area as part of the “naturalization” program for the site begun by landscape architect Merel Sager. Civilian Conservation crews (C.C.C.) planted shrubs at the newly constructed residences that had proven successful at Rim Village, including spirea, mountain ash, willow and twinberry (purple flower honeysuckle). In 1936, landscape work at the new Administration Building went beyond previous efforts using sedges and grasses for the open areas, several shrub species and tree groupings of mountain hemlock, lodgepole pine, and subalpine fir. Large quantities of top soil and peat were brought in from the south end of the valley to supplement, and in some cases, to replace the pumice soil prior to planting. Small-scale features including flagstone walks, rustic signs, stone bridges, planting beds and drinking fountains were incorporated into the landscape for both functional and design objectives. Additional road improvements were made and a parking area was added in back of the Administration Building (1936). A new parking facility was added in front of the Mess Hall and below the Machine Shop in 1938. Numerous “bitumuls” walks were installed around the Rangers’ Dormitory and the Administration Building.

Until 1938 park headquarters was known as “Government Camp.” In order to avoid confusion with Government Camp on Mount Hood, some 180 miles north of the park, the name was changed to Park Headquarters by Superintendent Ernest P. Leavitt. Munson was the name of an early visitor who died on a ridgeline two miles southwest of the headquarters site in 1872.

Although some planting and landscape work took place at the residential complex in 1940, by 1939 the designed landscape at Munson Valley was largely in place. In terms of a construction sequence the architectural structures generally preceded the installation of plant materials and other landscape features at the site. In terms of stylistic objectives, landscape treatments were a critical component of the site, and were designed to integrate man-made structures and circulation systems into the natural surroundings using weathered boulders, masonry, and rustic wood signs to accentuate design elements and evoke a rustic appearance.