History of Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park
No part of the park’s road system has yet been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, though two buildings associated with the Rim Drive circuit were listed in 1988. Portions of the system (routes 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8) nevertheless became part of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, a route that achieved All-American Road status in 1998. This national designation led to preparation of a corridor management plan, where one supplement aimed at making future site design through the park and an adjacent national forest compatible with the original stone masonry features found on Rim Drive.
The assumed eligibility of Rim Drive for listing is based on meeting two of four National Register criteria for areas of significance. These are Criterion A, for its association with the history and development of Crater Lake National Park, and Criterion C, for its association with landscape architects and engineers who produced an outstanding example of blending naturalistic and functional design in the areas of landscape architecture and highway engineering. As a linear designed landscape that took shape between 1926 and 1941, Rim Drive also fits the framework established for two previous multiple property listings that highlighted similar themes at Park Headquarters and Rim Village. A multiple property National Register form on Landscape Design in the National Park Service placed Rim Drive and other national park roads built during that period into the wider context of American history, focusing on conservation, public recreation, government, and landscape architecture as areas of significance. That documentation form also covered trails associated with historic park roads, particularly where this part of a circulation system reflected naturalistic principles underlying their planning, design, and construction. In addition to Rim Drive and five associated trails, the park also contains well-preserved examples of earlier road construction that may also qualify for listing. Portions of wagon roads built in 1865 and 1869 are extant in association with historic camps located along those routes. The park also contains two remnant pieces of a wagon road built in 1905-06, as well as representative segments of a road system designed for automobiles and attributed to the Army Corps of Engineers. These illustrate how roads in the vicinity of Crater Lake evolved prior to the advent of NPS administration in 1917, both in terms of construction techniques and the standards used in providing access for a steadily increasing number of visitors.
The park road system of past and present also in some ways illustrates the transformation of American highway engineering and landscape design over more than a century, and serves as a reminder of how travel to Crater Lake changed during that period of time. Where several thousand people reached the rim each summer during the 1890s, annual visitation has increased more than a hundred-fold. The system was altered and upgraded to meet demands for vehicular access to the park, though these improvements helped reduce the average length of a visit to Crater Lake from several days in the early part of the twentieth century to less than four hours at present.