How well does Crater Lake fulfill the national park ideal?
Crater Lake National Park occupies 183,224 acres or 286 miles in the Cascade range in southern Oregon. The surface area of the lake itself is 13,199 acres, only 7% of the square acreage of the national park. The deep blue lake is indeed a jewel and natural marvel of the modern world at 1,943 feet deep. It fulfills the national parks ideal. This ideal is spelled out in the National Park Service Organic act of 1916, which charges the national parks with a dual mandate, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment for the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." Crater Lake National Park fulfills this by providing amazing access to beautiful scenery, yet limiting access through carefully planned roads and trails as well as protecting the natural resources, plants and animals through monitoring and special programs.
Crater Lake is not near a large population center and averages around only 500,000 visitors per year. It is not as heavily traveled as some of its contemporary parks like Yellowstone National Park which has averaged around 2.5 million visitors per year for the last two years. This difference has saved Crater Lake from some of the other more difficult challenges of human encroachment, in other words, being loved to death by its visitors. According to Craig Ackerman, Crater Lake park superintendent, Crater Lake is not a destination park. Instead, it is more of a stopover or through-way. Visitors typically spend less than one night in the park (if any) and are most likely to simply pass through after completing a circuit of the Rim Road. This concentration of visitation on specifically designed roads and stops along its path reduces the impact of visitors in other areas of the park.
Stephen Marks says that, “Roads ultimately became the defining visitor experience in many national parks, with the best routes landscaped to blend with their park settings.” (Frost, Warwick, Colin Michael Hall) This is especially true for Crater Lake. Access to the main attraction, the caldera that contains the lake, is strictly limited. Hiking and climbing inside the caldera other than on the established Cleetwood trail, are prohibited, meaning that the primary access to the caldera is the Rim Road. Designed and constructed between 1931-1941, “Rim Drive is sited so as to avoid impinging on the beauty of this setting, where the rugged surroundings are still shaped by the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Mazama more than 7,700 years ago.” (Mark & Watson) On the Rim Road, there are 12 scenic stops along the 33 mile route, providing view points of Phantom Ship, Wizard Island, Vidae Falls and Wineglass. This drive shares all of the beauty of the caldera, while protecting the fragile ecology within by directing traffic along the rim, a prefect example of supporting the ideal of the national parks by both providing access and also protecting the surrounding area.
Personal watercraft are prohibited on the lake, further protecting its purity. In order to provide access to the water and Wizard Island, boat tours are offered by the concessionaire. These tours provide information about the lake as well as the only means to access Wizard Island. Visitors must hike down the established Cleetwood trail to access the boat dock. Fishing is available to visitors during limited hours from the area surrounding the dock.
Recently, a trolley system was introduced at Crater Lake. This trolley uses the existing Rim Drive. It is an opportunity for an interpretive experience. An interpretive ranger is on board each trolley, providing details about the caldera, lake, culture and history. Although it is run by a concessionaire, it provides an alternate means of experiencing the park for those that are unable to hike.
Trails provide access to scenic views from peaks such as Garfield Peak and Mount Scott, as well as connect to the more heavily traveled areas to the back country and Pacific Crest Trail. There are 90 miles of maintained trails within the park. By maintaining these trails, visitors are directed onto established trails, decreasing damage to animal habitat and sensitive plant communities. (Crater Lake Park Trails)
Wildlife monitoring and protection are ongoing projects in Crater Lake National Park. There are four species that are either threatened or endangered include the lynx, northern spotted owl, bull trout and tailed frog. (CL Facts and Figures). More recent studies on pikas have begun as concern over decreased habitat due to climate change has increased. The monitoring and protection of these sensitive species is key to the national park ideal.
The park is home to a Science and Learning Center that “was born from the collective vision of the Park and its partners to establish Crater Lake National Park as a wellspring for research information, a proving ground for educational techniques and a source of inspiration for artistic expression.” (Crater Lake: Science and Learning Center) It serves as a clearinghouse and facilitator for researchers. All individuals interested in performing research at Crater Lake must submit a proposal with their application for a researcher permit and all proposals are reviewed to make sure they comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This is another means of fulfilling the “dual mandate” for national parks.
Crater Lake National Park fulfills the ideal set forth in the dual mandate in the Organic Act by providing conservation and protection while allowing for the enjoyment and exploration of the scenery. Due to its relatively remote location far away from large population centers, it will not likely need the human public management that larger and more heavily traveled parks like Yellowstone require. In the future, other outside and less controllable risks such as invasive species, climate change and air pollution will need to be considered and managed. In the long run, consistent conservation, monitoring and research will enable Crater Lake National Park to live up to the national park ideal for years to come.
"Crater Lake Park Trails". National Park Service. October 2, 2010. http://www.nps.gov/crla/planyourvisit/upload/2010%20Trails.pdf.
"Crater Lake: Science and Learning Center". 2010. National Park Service. October 10, 2010. http://www.nps.gov/crla/slc.htm.
"Facts and Figures About Crater Lake National Park." 2001. Print.
"Record Number of Visitors Enjoyed Yellowstone This Summer". 2009. Yellowstone National Park News Release. National Park Service. October 10, 2010. http://www.nps.gov/yell/parknews/09076.htm.
Ackerman, Craig. "Talk with University of Oregon National Parks Class." Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, October 3, 2010.
Frost, Warwick, and Colin Michael Hall. Tourism and National Parks : International Perspectives on Development, Histories, and Change. Contemporary Geographies of Leisure, Tourism, and Mobility. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009. Print.
Mark, Stephen R., Jerry Watson, and United States. National Park Service. Rim Drive Cultural Landscape Report : Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. Pacific West Region Social Science Series. Washington, D.C.: USDI, National Park Service, 2009. Print.