History of Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park
Route 6 (Lost Creek to Vidae Falls)
This remnant section of the old Rim Road is really an alternate to a portion of Rim Drive, so one BPR engineer recommended it be known as “Route 7 Alt.” in 1946. It was used as such during the first decade following the end of World War II because rock fall on Anderson Point, Dutton Cliff, and Sun Grade often blocked Rim Drive for at least part of several summer travel seasons. By the mid 1950s, however, NPS master plan drawings indicated that this road had assumed the designation of “Route 6.” Some grading of it by park crews for maintenance purposes undoubtedly took place, most likely on an annual basis, yet planners in 1968 described this road as having been “abandoned” almost three decades earlier. They nevertheless found it in “fair to good condition” and easily passable by automobile.
The impetus for identifying at least one “motor nature trail” in national parks such as Crater Lake has often been attributed to NPS Director George Hartzog, who ordered that this type of experience be considered as part of the master planning process in 1968. As originally conceived, planners of that time saw the “Grayback Ridge Motor Nature Trail” as a one-way gravel road destined to receive “minimal use” given its location away from the main travel corridor between Annie Spring and the North Entrance. They nonetheless called the interpretive possibilities “exceptional,” so R.G. Bruce, a park naturalist, designed sixteen wayside exhibits for placement at regular intervals between Lost Creek and Vidae Falls. Once installed, however, these devices were criticized in one interpretive plan as being overly lengthy in regard to text while also failing to effectively develop the designated theme. By the time the NPS undertook its first general management plan for Crater Lake in 1976, a new group of planners called the Grayback wayside exhibits “obsolete,” noting that a newly printed guidebook removed the need for them.
Rapidly escalating fuel costs and gasoline shortages affecting park operations led Superintendent James Rouse to propose closing the Grayback Road to the regional director in September 1979. He justified such a move by presenting the idea that vehicle access by way of segments 7-D and 7-E made the Grayback Road redundant as a motor nature trail, given the one-way circulation system clockwise then in force on this portion of Rim Drive. Less than four years later, however, he wrote to a new regional director about abandoning those segments of Rim Drive in favor of widening and improving the Grayback Road. Rouse mentioned having recently met Lange, who told him of the road location controversy involving 7-D and 7-E1 during the 1930s, though he placed greater emphasis on cost savings derived from abandoning 5.5 miles of Rim Drive extending from Kerr Notch to Vidae Falls.
His successor, Robert E. Benton, eventually opted for the status quo in keeping all of Rim Drive open for summer travel and then directing that circulation on it return to a two-way system in 1987. The Grayback Road, meanwhile, remained one-way and at roughly the same graded width (12′) as when originally constructed in 1913, though Benton thought the motor nature trail designation was outmoded and at one point asked his division chiefs for recommendations on possible uses. Declining fuel prices and an increasing park budget over the last half of the 1980s insured annual re-grading of the road, though its status as a “motor nature trail” became a casualty to shifting priorities in NPS planning.