33 Design and Construction of Circuit Roads

History of Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park


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Design and Construction of Circuit Roads


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Only one road ran through Crater Lake National Park when Congress established it on May 22, 1902. The Fort Klamath — Jacksonville wagon road served as an approach route for visitors to the lake, though they still needed to follow a trail marked by blazes for the final 2.5 miles to the rim. A better road on the other side of the Cascade Divide (one going through Munson Valley) reached the site later called Rim Village in 1905, but those desiring to do a circuit around Crater Lake were faced with a cross-country pack trip lasting several days.

The first clamor for a circuit road came from park founder William G. Steel, but only after he started a concession company to provide visitor services at Crater Lake in 1907. Steel told one newspaper that the road’s construction was imminent that September, an announcement that largely stemmed from his optimism about public and private investment at Crater Lake, as fueled by visits from Secretary of the Interior James R. Garfield and railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman, president of the Southern Pacific. Garfield left office after the presidential election of 1908, while Harriman died soon thereafter, but Steel continued his pursuit of funding for roads both to and within the park through the Oregon congressional delegation. His first taste of success in this regard came in June 1910, when Congress appropriated $10,000 for the Army Corps of Engineers to make a survey and provide estimates for future road construction at Crater Lake.

A party of twenty-six men began work to prepare plans, specifications, and estimates for a park road system in August. The engineer in charge came to Crater Lake having studied a topographic map and quickly becoming convinced that a “main highway” or “boulevard” following the rim was feasible, with roads and trails to points of interest radiating from it. As the center of circulation, such a road followed long established precedents, given how circuits for riding and walking had served as the standard way of viewing European parks since the eighteenth century. Prominent landscape designers in the United States during the middle part of the nineteenth century like Andrew Jackson Downing embraced this convention as the desire for public and private parks spread across the Atlantic. It was Downing who provided a hierarchy of service, approach, and circuit roads in his work, and this heavily influenced the design of circulation systems in American national parks. The concept of a circuit road could also be applied at various scales, particularly where this device presented visitors with appealing views and distant prospects. For these reasons surveyors considered a road encircling the lake to be of “first importance,” in that it should follow the “ridges and high points along the crater rim on account of the view.” Approach roads to Crater Lake, by contrast, were to possess little in the way of scenic features.