History of Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park
Routes 25-49 (fire roads)
What were called “motorways” or “truck trails” at one time originated in 1929, when park employees began laying out a “fire control system” of access roads intended to cross the largest number of sections possible in the backcountry. Construction began the following year, with the initial 22 miles built without cutting what Sager called “larger” trees. He described the roads as being of a low standard, being built by a bulldozer that simply scraped away forest litter down to mineral soil and then pushing material to one side. This method did not provide for drainage, so the roadbed often became a ditch or gully where it traversed the lowest part of the terrain.
Almost 130 miles of fire roads became part of this system, with most of the construction completed by 1934. Grades varied between flat and 10 percent along most of the motorways, where 12′ became the standard width. The fire roads remained unsurfaced, so portions damaged by erosion or characterized by high centers sometimes made travel on them a challenge. Their proliferation came in response to a desire to suppress fires started by lightning in remote corners of the park, or to reach patrol cabins built by the CCC in 1933-34. Employees could drive the roads for recreational purposes by permit, but the rangers installed locked gates at public entry points to stop visitor use of the motorways, since there were fears in the NPS about intentional or inadvertent ignitions in the backcountry.
Regular maintenance of the motorways commenced in 1941 as part of fire suppression activities and continued sporadically until 1971, when the NPS stopped virtually all motorized administrative access to areas in the park now studied for their suitability as legally designated wilderness. The shift toward managing much of the backcountry as wilderness, even though Congress failed to act on formal NPS recommendations made in 1974, led to making roughly 52 miles of fire roads part of the park’s maintained trail system. Subsequent trail reroutes aimed at enhancing the wilderness experience of backcountry visitors have since slightly reduced that total.