Resources 1984 – G. Steel Mounts a Campaign to Save Crater Lake

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

VI. Steps Leading Toward Establishment of Crater Lake National Park


G. Steel Mounts a Campaign to Save Crater Lake

Upon returning home from his first visit to Crater Lake with William Steel in 1885, J.M. Breck wrote a letter that was reproduced in regional newspapers describing the lake and its beauty. Meanwhile Steel sent out one thousand circular letters to practically all the large daily newspapers asking them to support the idea of making Crater Lake a national park. He also contacted every newspaper and postmaster in Oregon, urging them to circulate petitions to this effect. Steel also wrote a 112-page book called The Mountains of Oregon, copies of which he mailed to President Cleveland, members of the cabinet, and to Congress.

In 1886 Oregon’s representatives in Congress urged the passage of an act setting apart Crater Lake and four townships of land surrounding it, twelve by thirty miles in extent, as a national park. A joint memorial to Congress and a petition to the President were forwarded to Washington. Senators John H. Mitchell and Joseph N. Dolph and Representative Binger Hermann were persuaded to seek favorable concurrence in the matter. Not content with these efforts, Steel went to Washington himself and met with the president, convincing the Chief Executive that a mandatory first step should be the withdrawal of ten townships of land in the area from public entry. Impressed by Steel’s sincerity and high purpose, Cleveland recommended to Secretary of the Interior Lucius Q.C. Lamar the “temporary withdrawal of certain public lands in Oregon pending legislation, looking to the creation of a public park which shall embrace Crater Lake.”[14] On February 1, 1886, President Cleveland signed an executive order withdrawing from settlement or sale ten townships surrounding and including Crater Lake.

The possibility of the Crater Lake bill passing Congress seemed hopeless because of strong lobbying efforts by lumbermen, sheepmen, ranchers, and speculators, and because of the prevalent belief that Oregon should protect her own lakes without any help from the federal government. Also “they [U.S. Congress] gave as their reasons [for questioning the bill] revenues needed and obstacles to be encountered in enforcement of proper police protection through the U.S. courts.” Dolph, to Steel’s chagrin, then began to favor the suggestion that the tract be ceded to Oregon in trust for a park. To this Steel adamantly objected, for he felt the state would never provide money for its maintenance. He resolved to pursue even more doggedly his fight for Crater Lake National Park, though lacking sufficient funds and still without the power of political clout. The bill submitted soon expired, but the townships remained as a federal reserve, a measure intended to protect them from exploitation in the future. The lack of appropriations, however, allowed continued misuse of their resources.


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