Campaign – 03

Crater Lake: The Campaign to Establish a National Park in Oregon by Steve Mark, Crater Lake National Park Historian

The Judge and a Forest Reserve

With efforts to establish a national park around Crater Lake effectively stymied by 1889, Steel began looking for other ways to gain the protection he sought for this area. An acquaintance of his, Judge John B. Waldo, advised Steel as early as 1885 that he ought to petition for reservation of the entire Cascade Range in Oregon. Although Steel opted for only ten townships around Crater Lake at first, he remained open to a more ambitious reservation once a national movement to retain federal ownership of forest lands gained momentum in the late 1880s. [5]

Judge John Waldo: Encourage Steel to seek protection for the Cascades. Courtesy Oregon Historical Society #64412.

A member of an Oregon pioneer family that settled east of Salem in 1843, Waldo served as chief justice of the state Supreme Court from 1884 to 1886, and won one term as state representative in 1888. He loved the mountains, avidly read Thoreau, and spent much of each summer in the wildest and most remote parts of the Cascades. During the summer of 1888, for example, Waldo and his companions made the first recorded journey along the crest between Mount Jefferson and Mount Shasta. They made the trip because Waldo intended to have the legislature ask Congress for a huge “public reserve or park.” It was to encompass twelve miles on each side of the Cascade Divide and run along the entire length of the range in Oregon. Settlement and logging would be prohibited and other uses regulated so that water supplies, game, and recreation could be perpetuated for all time. [6]

This memorial of 1889 met defeat in the state Senate, so it never left Salem. Congress did, however, pass legislation in 1891 allowing the president to proclaim “forest reserves” from any land still in the public domain that had trees or was covered with undergrowth. The Oregon Alpine Club, headed by Steel, now became the leading proponent of establishing forest reserves in Oregon. Their first success came in 1892, when the Bull Run Forest Reserve was created to protect Portland’s water supply. It took another year before President Cleveland acted to establish the nation’s largest reserve.

The Cascade Range Forest Reserve came into being (along with a much smaller reserve near Ashland) on September 28, 1893, and encompassed 4.5 million acres that later formed the basis for several national forests. Within its boundaries was the earlier Crater Lake reservation made during Cleveland’s first term in office. [7]

Sheep graze in a fragile high country meadow in this early 1900 photo. Damage from grazing and “range improvement” fires led national park advocates to seek legal protection for Crater Lake, and the forests and watersheds of the high Cascades.
Photo courtesy Jeff LaLande.

Steel saw the new reserve as a way to buy time for his national park proposal, in that the proclamation was more permanent than the 1886 withdrawal often townships. Congress, however, still had not appropriated any funds nor provided direction in the management of forest reserves. Unregulated sheep grazing on the reserves represented an immediate threat in the eyes of many forestry advocates They saw the animals as responsible for denuding forest cover and thereby degrading the forests capacity to store water for agriculture and municipal use. Many herders burned large areas to improve forage, impairing visibility for months at a time and contributing to the loss of prime timber. When the Secretary of the Interior issued an order prohibiting grazing on the reserve in 1894, the sheep owners attempted to fight back through the Oregon delegation in Congress. The delegation led an effort to severely reduce the Cascade Range reserve while some sheepmen openly defied the secretary’s order.

Things came to a head in 1896, when Steel spent most of six months in Washington, D.C., orchestrating a lobbying campaign in defense of the reserve. After some close calls, the reserve emerged intact, so Steel returned to Oregon in June with the intention of leading a trip to promote interest in Crater Lake. He wanted to bring the Mazamas, a Portland-based mountain climbing group Steel started in 1894, to Southern Oregon for an ascent of Mount McLoughlin and some extended camping at what later became known as Rim Village. In early August a deputy U.S. marshal was sent to Crater Lake to arrest sheepherders who had brought some 2,000 sheep into the area. This resulted in four sheep owners having to appear in federal court, where charges were dropped in view of the judge’s warning to keep sheep away from Crater Lake thereafter. [8]

The Mazamas gathering that August was important in several ways. Fay Fuller, as one of the Mazamas, had the honor of christening the ancient volcano whose remnant caldera held Crater Lake. The mountain that the Klamath Indians called gi was, Fuller named after the climbing club—which in turn had taken its name from the Spanish word for mountain goat. Secondly, Steel had prevailed upon several government scientists to conduct various studies of the proposed park area. The investigators presented their findings to the campers throughout the week (the first formal interpretation at Crater Lake) and subsequently published research papers in the annual journal of the Mazamas. This volume served not only as a record of the trip, but was also intended as the first guidebook for visitors to Crater Lake.

mark3htThe commission’s final report recommended retaining existing forest reserves and adding some new ones, but remained silent on the issue of national park status for Crater Lake. In June of 1897, Congress passed legislation giving a degree of permanence to the reserves and provided funds for their management. They provided a somewhat utilitarian direction, allowing the location of mineral claims and authorizing uses such as logging and grazing at the interior secretary’s discretion. The Secretary drew up regulations to implement the legislation, and included a provision banning sheep from the area near Crater Lake. This conveyed some of the protection Steel desired, but he worried about a clause in the new law allowing the president to reduce, modify, or eliminate forest reserves at any time.
Steel had to cut short his time with the club members because he had to meet a special forest commission arriving by train in Medford and deliver the members to Crater Lake. The controversy over federal forests had by now prompted Cleveland to appoint a body to make recommendations about the number of reserves and their future management. Steel naturally thought it critical to discuss the fate of both the Cascade Range reserve and Crater Lake with the commission. He walked from Rim Village to the train depot in less than three days, and arranged for wagons to transport the commissioners back to Rim Village. The weather had turned wet and misty by the time they arrived at the rim, but Steel convinced commission members John Muir and a young forester named Gifford Pinchot to join him in camping at the lake shore for one night hoping to reach Wizard Island the next day. Rain and rough water canceled the boat trip, though Steel appeared to have succeeded in obtaining the commission’s support for retaining the forest reserve and establishing a national park at Crater Lake.

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