History of Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park
NPS and BPR Collaboration on Approach Roads
Route 1 (West Entrance to Annie Spring)
Work continued on what had formerly been called the Medford Road in 1926, so that the macadam surfacing had been completed by the second week of August. The finished roadway now had a graded width of 18′ shoulder to shoulder, with a surfaced width of 14′. Thomson commented on the high standard of the road, particularly once removal of construction debris had taken place and log guardrails were installed where needed. Finding a wearing course that did not require an annual application of road oil took the next two seasons. NPS engineer Ward Webber wrote about the bituminous surface treatment (paving) used in 1927, one where insufficient mixing of oil with aggregate resulted in the wearing course lacking uniform texture. He noted that some portions were too lean, while others contained too much oil, thus necessitating the reprocessing of this asphalt material when the surface began to fail under traffic. The NPS achieved better results in 1928, though it took supervision by T.R. Goodwin (a road oiling expert on loan from the California State Highway Commission) to obtain the desired texture and color.
Minimal post construction work (such as patching, widening of bank slopes, and fine grading) by NPS crews took place along this route during the 1930s, though funding through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) paid for development of a small public campground on the north side of the road crossing at Whitehorse Creek. CCC enrollees built a water system and two latrines there in 1934, but the site was abandoned after the 1941 season. This came in response to a proposal for a new, but modest campground to be located at the West Entrance, where the NPS planned to add a ranger residence, comfort station, and replace the checking station. Available funding limited this development to a portable kiosk that served as a checking station beginning in 1946, with accommodation for seasonal employees staffing consisting of an unsightly shack hidden among the trees a few hundred feet away.
The proposal by Superintendent E.P. Leavitt for the road to be reconstructed over its entire length, a project aimed at producing a roadway 32′ wide with a surfaced width of 24′, had to be put on hold during World War II due to lack of funding. For the next decade after the war ended in 1945, Leavitt and his successors had to be content with much smaller amounts aimed at maintaining ditches and patching the paved surface. This type of funding did little to stave off further deterioration, as the park’s chief ranger described the road as old and poorly drained in 1949, such that the wearing course was badly cracked and weathered.
The road’s condition hardly improved over the next two decades, given how one of Leavitt’s successors described it in 1964. Superintendent Richard Nelson found extensive failures in the base (composed largely of pumice) and pavement, but also criticized how the roadway’s width of 18′ lacked adequate sight distance on the numerous curves. Snow removal posed difficulties for drivers on such a narrow road, since the initial plowing produced windrows that substantially reduced driving width during much of the winter. Steep grades and sharp curves on two sections also contributed to the road accounting for some 65 percent of all automobile accidents within the park.
Engineers with the Federal Highway Administration (lineal successor to BPR) renewed their discussions with NPS officials about road improvements in November 1967. Everyone agreed about the necessity of widening the roadway to obtain lanes 10′ wide, so the meeting focused on two proposed realignments. One involved a preliminary road design of 1961 that called for a tangent at the crossing of Whitehorse Creek, but the NPS rejected that idea in favor of a more curvilinear alignment that better matched the agency’s road standards of the time. More consideration was given to bypassing the Whitehorse crossing altogether with a new road location. Preliminary data indicated the possibility of going around Whitehorse Bluff in traversing the Cascade Divide, thereby avoiding the existing reverse curve with its two tight radii on either end. Park Superintendent Donald Spalding, however, feared the damage to timber and wildlife habitat certain to result from such a major realignment. He opted for improvements within the existing alignment, pointing to how the disadvantage of the reverse curve could be offset with curves having a radius of 400′ on either end.
Road reconstruction finally began in October 1972, with the initial contract aimed at widening the 2.4 miles between Whitehorse Creek and the top of the Cascade Divide. It also addressed the upper end of the reverse curve, where a large number of vehicle accidents had occurred due to the abrupt change in alignment. Project design called for wider lanes and some superelevation, though the FHWA engineers doubted that the improvements would result in substantially fewer accidents because the topography did not permit sufficient transition time for drivers to lower their speed.
Reconstruction went forward despite the problematic reverse curve, with completion of the initial contract in September 1974. Widening and reconstructing 2.9 miles of road west of Whitehorse Creek started the following summer, so that final inspection took place in July 1976. Several paved parking areas were added along the route as part of both contracts, though only one of them provided visitors with a scenic vista. This came at Elephant’s Back, where parking areas on both sides of the road allowed those who stopped a glimpse of Castle Creek Canyon.