Crater Lake: Designing With Nature

Crater Lake: Designing With Nature

by Steve Mark, Crater Lake National Park Historian


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— This article is originally from Crater Lake National Park’s website

Landscape architects have certainly made their mark on establishing recreational access and enhancing the developed areas at Crater Lake National Park. Large parts of two locales, Rim Village and Park Headquarters, remain coherent and comprehensive expressions of rustic architecture. Battered andesite boulders incorporated into stone masonry of National Park Service structures make an obvious visual impact by creating the impression that man’s intrusions on the landscape have grown from the ground. More subtle, of course, are foundation plantings of native shrubs and sedges which aid in sublimating these features to their subalpine setting.

Crater Lake Lodge
Crater Lake Lodge

Rim Visitor Center, Designing with Nature
Rim Visitor Center

Crater Lake Park’s recreational base grows from Rim Village and Crater Lake Lodge (1915, expanded 1923, rebuilt 1991-93) and what is now a summer visitor center but formerly the Kiser Studio (1921). Concessioners erected these buildings in the hope that visitors might link the hotel or photography business with the central attraction of Crater Lake.

Learn More about the Crater Lake Lodge: images, books, news, and more

As a result, both are literally perched next to the lake, making them readily apparent whether one is on the lake or in Rim Village. A sharp distinction between structure and scenery still prevails around both buildings despite the best efforts of NPS. landscape architects to mitigate this by transplanting native vegetation around the lodge and Kiser Studio during the 1930s. Great views of the lake and surrounding landscape are afforded from the lodge.

Naturalistic design at Crater Lake eventually reached a high point between 1927 and 1940. Just a short distance from the Kiser Studio is a masterpiece of rustic architecture located atop Victor Rock. Known as the Sinnott Memorial, it is almost invisible from the surface of Crater Lake. NPS landscape architect Merel Sager achieved this effect by spending hours sketching from a row boat so that his design of an overlook and museum building might fit its surroundings. Opened in 1931, the Sinnott Memorial continues to be a key feature of the park’s educational program because it allows NPS naturalists to explain the ecological story of Crater Lake in a way which is reinforced by what people see. Open from late June through much of September, this is a logical first stop for many visitors.

Sinnott Memorial, Wizard Island, Llao Rock, and Crater Lake
Sinnot Memorial

Steel Information Center, Crater Lake National Park
Steel Information Center

Learning and understanding the landscape is an emphasis at the park. The Steel Information Center, located three miles south of Rim Village at Park Headquarters, is open all year. It is where visitors can see how the park fits into its environment. Situated several hundred feet above the West Rim Drive, the Watchman Lookout is both a fire lookout and museum. Opened in 1933, it is accessible by a trail that provides an inspiring view of the lake and surrounding forests from an 8,000 foot peak.

Completed in 1936, the Administration Building is located next to Steel Center. As seen against a ridge formed by the eastern flank of glacially-carved Munson Valley, it is easy to comprehend how materials, scale, shade, and shadow associated with this structure effectively harmonize with the larger scene. Landscape architects prevented automobiles from dominating this most prominent part of Park Headquarters by siting the building between two parking areas. In doing so, they allowed for circulation by using an ellipse which reduces congestion and the impacts on vegetation.

Superintendent's Residence, Crater Lake National Park
Superintendent’s Residence

Since 1989 several NPS historians and landscape architects have helped to shift the focus of cultural resource management efforts at the park. An approach centering on preserving structures only has been de-emphasized in favor of managing the larger built landscape, so that Rim Village and Park Headquarters can now be seen as coherent nodes of naturalistic design within a broader system.

Learn More about the Crater Lake Lodge: images, books, news, and more

To a large extent, the physical conditions governing Crater Lake National Park during the 1930s dictated the appearance of its rustic architecture. These cultural resources should also be seen, however, as a part of naturalistic design’s evolution from its roots in royal and private estates almost two centuries before Congress designated the first national park at Yellowstone in 1872. In that respect, Crater Lake National Park furnishes a great example of what the eighteenth century landscape gardener Humphrey Repton termed appropriation — or comprehensive park design along the same architectural theme. Consequently, its rustic architecture supplies an unusual opportunity to study a perception of nature and how this was manifested in various forms through out the park.

This article first appeared in Oregon Land, newsletter of the Oregon Chapter, American Society of Landscape Architects, Spring 1995.

Steel Information Center in winter, Crater Lake National Park
Steel Information Center