Probing – 02 Earliest Visitors

Probing the Depths of Crater Lake: A Century of Scientific Research by Douglas Larson

  One of the earliest visitors to Crater Lake was William Gladstone Steel, a Portland businessman and founder of the Mazamas, a local mountain-climbing club. In August 1885, Steel and a colleague stood speechless as they gazed across the lake for the first time. “It all belongs to the government,” Steel exclaimed, “and it’s up to you and me to save this lake!” A few days later, Steel joined Clarence Dutton in a small canvas boat to explore the lake’s shoreline and Wizard Island, an 800-foot-tall cinder cone about one quarter mile offshore. Together, they vowed to protect the lake from lumbermen, sheep ranchers, and land speculators who threatened to exploit the area’s natural resources.

Steel spent the next seventeen years lobbying Congress for legislation to protect and preserve the lake that Dutton had praised as “a little sheet of water which is destined to take high rank among the wonders of the world.”  In 1890, Steel wrote and published a book about Crater Lake, The Mountains of Oregon, which was mailed to President Benjamin Harrison, the president’s cabinet, and members of Congress. Steel’s persistence earned him the undeserved title of crackpot and pest.  Nevertheless, Congress passed a bill in 1902 designating Crater Lake as a national park. On May 22, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the legislation, assuring the nation that the lake’s beauty and uniqueness would be protected for “present and future generations.”

This early aerial view of Crater Lake gives a good view of the caldera and Wizard Island, along with the surrounding terrain.

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