43 Route 5 (East Entrance to Kerr Notch)

History of Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park

 

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NPS and BPR Collaboration on Approach Roads

 

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Route 5 (East Entrance to Kerr Notch)

Reconstruction and partial realignment of the old Pinnacles Road started in 1929, when BPR supervised two projects, one being 4.2 miles of grading and surfacing between U.S. 97 and the East Entrance through the adjoining national forest. This project was hitched together with grading and surfacing 2 miles of road inside the park (5-A1). It included establishment of a delineated parking area overlooking the “Pinnacles” on Wheeler Creek. Specifications for a graded roadway of 22′ with a surfaced width of 18′ were noticeably greater than the previous BPR standards for park roads governing reconstruction of Routes 3 and 4 just two years earlier. New standards came in response to heavier and faster vehicles that could now reach average speeds of 50 miles per hour.

Work on the remaining 4.5 miles of the East Entrance Road had to wait until 1931, when the BPR awarded a contract for grading that section to McNutt and Pyle of Eugene. Engineers did a location survey report in the intervening period on the road from Lost Creek to Kerr Notch (segment 5-B) since it had not been included within the BPR reconnaissance survey of 1926. New estimates were needed once the NPS made a decision to route the road away from Sand Creek and instead along the western edge of Kerr Valley, with the upper section being near the base of Dutton Ridge. After making a late start the previous fall, the contractors resumed work in midsummer of 1932 and completed work during the first part of September. NPS landscape architect Merel Sager noted in one of his reports that the project included 11,400 cubic yards of Type B excavation so that little or no damage to trees resulted from blasting. He also wrote about the first rounding of slopes ever done at Crater Lake, a bid item that required several tries before the contractors achieved success. A specification for old road obliteration was also included in the contract so that obvious indications of the route graded by the Army Corps of Engineers could be removed whenever it came into view.

View along Rim Drive
A portion of Red Cloud Cliff near the East Rim Drive.

BPR engineers completed plans and specifications for surfacing and paving segments 5-A2 and 5-B in 1932, but another three years passed before work commenced. They awarded the contract to J.C. Compton, a firm that also paved Routes 7-A and 8 during the summers of 1935 and 1936. Compton’s men started on the East Entrance Road during the first season, leaving only the final seal coat and minor shoulder treatments for the following year. Lange’s only real comment on Compton’s work consisted of an observation about the uniformity and smoothness of the resulting road surface. He largely attributed the results to placing aggregate with a Jaeger spreader, the first machine of its kind in the west, as Superintendent David Canfield later noted.

Aside from replacement and removal of log guardrail at two parking areas and the Pinnacles Overlook, subsequent changes along Route 5 have been confined to Lost Creek Campground and the East Entrance area. With the road reconstruction essentially completed in 1935, Lange sought to improve the undeveloped camping area at Lost Creek using a site plan that featured a loop road with parking spurs, tables, and fireplaces. He noted the placement of ten log tables and as many fireplaces in the summer of 1938, later adding that more improvements to existing facilities should be made. A rapidly shrinking budget for CCC projects meant few changes at the site until 1957, when a Mission 66 project funded replacement of tables, fireplaces, and pit toilets, but also led to completion of parking spurs and two unsurfaced road loops at Lost Creek Campground.

The resulting expansion from ten to twelve sites at the campground occurred after the NPS closed the East Entrance in 1956, though in the face of steadily increasing park visitation. This closure came in response to average daily traffic during the summer having declined to only thirty-five vehicles, largely due to the relocation of U.S. 97 away from nearby Sun Pass in 1949. Park crews razed a log checking station at the boundary even before that time, since the NPS chose to use a portable kiosk on the East Entrance Road near Lost Creek. CCC enrollees built a stone masonry “motif” at the boundary in 1937 that complemented signage at the other three road entrances to the park. The structure sat virtually forgotten once the closure took effect. The East Entrance opened again in September 1971 as a means to augment circulation on the new one-way road system on Rim Drive. With only 2.5 percent of almost 600,000 park visitors using the entrance over the 1972 season, it closed again the following year. With the road blocked by boulders at the Pinnacles Overlook and re-contoured for a short distance beyond that point, the East Entrance has remained closed to motor vehicles since that time. Access for hikers and bicyclists over the half mile stretch between the overlook and a parking lot built by the U.S. Forest Service near the park boundary was encouraged, however, after NPS employees built a trail along the edge of Wheeler Creek Canyon in 1991.