Resources 1984 – N. Crater Lake National Park

Historic Resource Study, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, 1984

VI. Steps Leading Toward Establishment of Crater Lake National Park

N. Crater Lake National Park

After the turn of the century, a new generation of conservationists came to power, emerging into a political reality under the guidance of Gifford Pinchot, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Forestry. Pinchot advocated scientific forest management. In advising President Theodore Roosevelt in matters of conservation, Pinchot stressed the “gospel of efficiency,” which preached that land and natural resources should be used to serve the needs of machinery, industry, and the production of commercial wealth. The preservation of natural scenery and historic sites for humanitarian values, this new doctrine stated, should remain subordinate to increasing industrial productivity. The persuasiveness to many of this utilitarian theory of conservation lay in its kinship with the pioneer ethic of land use. Advocates of absolute preservation suffered a severe disadvantage in that every major forest preserve prior to 1919 was located in the West, and, until mass production of the automobile in the 1920s, there was little visitation to justify use by the preservationists.

Those challenging the inadequacy of smaller parks did so against growing pressures for the reduction of reserves. To many, scenic preservation was still an extravagance; to establish parks merely as an attempt to preserve what might one day be valuable was seen as a selfish and unproductive indulgence. As a result of this lingering remnant of pioneer thinking, any new parks that might be designated were bound to be limited in extent: “As exemplified by the restriction of Mount Rainier and Crater Lake national parks to their focal wonders, the national park idea at the beginning of the twentieth century was little changed from its original purpose of protecting a unique visual experience.” [28]

The prerequisite that national parks should be areas that were worthless economically was mandatory in discussions leading to the protection of Crater Lake. In spite of the fact that utilization of resources was never the major issue here that it would be at other parks, Steel was careful only to publicize the grandeur and monumentalism of this southern Oregon wonder, and not any potential economic values.

Oregon advocates realized that approval of the park by Congress hinged mostly on evidence of its worthlessness for all but the most marginal economic returns. In this vein Thomas H. Tongue of Oregon introduced Crater Lake to the House of Representatives as “a very small affair–only eighteen by twenty-two miles.” [29]