On January 1, 1990 a Oregon Parks and Recreation Department was separated from the Department of Transportation. A governor-appointed, seven-member State Parks and Recreation Commission, was established and given the power to define the duties of the agency director and departmental authority.
There were earlier public parks of state concern. In 1871, Thomas Summers donated Sodaville Mineral Springs in the central Willamette Valley to perpetual public use. It was taken over by the State Board of Control in 1890, but did not become part of the system of state parks until 1947. Along the Willamette River, in the vicinity of the former town site of Champoeg, Provisional Government Park was established between 1901 and 1912.
An early boost for coastal park development was the 1913 declaration by Governor Oswald West that the Oregon beaches should be designated as a public highway. The Legislative Assembly concurred, amending existing laws to include all ocean shore tidelands from the Columbia River to the California state line.
The Oregon State Highway Commission, first established in 1913, became directors of a park system. With their related agency, the State Highway Department, and its successor, the Department of Transportation, the commissioners guided Oregon State Parks from 1921 through 1989.
In 1921, Governor Olcott asked the Legislative Assembly for a scenic preservation package of three major parts that would:
- Empower the State Highway Commission to acquire rights of way along state highways for the maintenance and preservation of scenic beauty;
- Outlaw the destructive cutting of trees along state highways.
- Authorize the Highway Commission to acquire land for parks and parking places to be used by the traveling public.
The right-of-way and destructive cutting proposals passed, but not the parks proposal.
In 1921, the Highway Commission was authorized to acquire rights of way within 300 feet of the highway center line. Proceeding on this authority, the commission acquired several small roadside parks and waysides. A committee on tree planting was appointed in 1924 by the Highway Commission. In 1928, the committee name was changed to State Park and Recreation Advisory Committee as their concern shifted to broader matters, including the location and nature of parks.
In 1925 legislation, there were efforts to obtain larger areas for parks, beyond the 300 feet right-of-way limit.
In 1927, Charles G. Sauers, a leader in Indiana parks and representing the National Conference on State Parks, came to Oregon to promote the idea of a department of conservation for natural resources including the state park system. The system would thus be developed by people primarily concerned with parks, rather than the location, construction and maintenance of highways.
In May 1929, the governor appointed a State Park Commission composed of the existing Highway Commission plus two former chairmen. This park commission met only once, July 24, 1929.
During the Depression years (1929-1941) money was in short supply for parks, especially for development. At this time the federal government undertook many relief programs to put people to work. Some of these were most helpful to park conservation and development. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), under the technical supervision of the National Park Service, carried on State Park Emergency Conservation Work (ECW). In Oregon the first two camps were established in October, 1933, near Gold Beach in Curry County and at Benson Park east of Portland on the Columbia River. Over the years, until the close-down in 1942 with the entry of the United States into the Second World War, improvements were carried out in 45 state parks.
Several state level groups formed to promote state park programs, but none seemed to have had the necessary support of the State Highway Commission. One of these was Governor Julius Meier's State Parks Advisory Commission, appointed May 17, 1933. The Parks Advisory Commission outlined its views on parks and roadside forest strips to the Highway Commission on June 27, 1933, after which there is no record of further meetings. Another was the Oregon State Board of Higher Education Advisory Committee on State Parks, created in 1942. While this committee was concerned with many projects, an initial item was the creation of a parkway in the John Day region to be maintained by the Oregon State Highway Commission. The Education Advisory Committee was interested also in generating public information about the Columbia River Gorge and the Oregon coast as well as Crater Lake National Park. Ideas on the John Day country were communicated to the Highway Commission, but were not taken seriously. Apparently, with the death of some of its organizers and post-war changes, the committee ceased to exist.
In 1934, the Pacific Northwest Regional Planning Commission initiated a study of the recreational values in the Columbia River Gorge. Its report, published in 1937, made recommendations concerning roads, parks, and scenic resources. This study was farseeing in its concept of freeway development and roadside parks. It provided guidelines and a base for later work by the Columbia River Gorge Commission.
The post-war era saw a great increase in the number of park visitors and in the complexity of park administration. In 1949, the state was divided into five park districts, each the responsibility of a supervisor. With the rise in park use there was a demand for more facilities, especially camping areas.
After 1950, the State Parks organization took on a more traditional character in which the parks superintendent became the executive officer for a group of specialized staff and park managers. It took many years for park managers to be designated as managers rather than caretakers, but in the 1950s, field personnel were engaged in more than care-taking. They were providing developments to make the parks useful to the public.
In the period 1950-1960, a new management style was established in which more responsibility was delegated to field managers working in coordination with the Salem office. Also, at this time outside organizations and citizen groups more directly affected park system expansion.
One of the citizen groups to have a strong impact on the State Parks organization was the "Save the Gorge" committee of the Portland Women's Forum. The committee encouraged the 1953 Oregon Legislative Assembly to pass an act establishing a Columbia River Gorge Commission. Funding for the commission came slowly at first. However, in 1955, the Highway Commission set aside a sum of $50,000 to acquire park lands in the gorge. Land exchanges were effected with the U. S. Bureau of Land Management, the U. S. Forest Service and Hood River County. Oregon continued to purchase and receive gifts of land to enlarge its holdings in the gorge.
In 1955, Governor Paul Patterson requested the Highway Commission's Advisory Committee on Travel Information to study the question of whether the administration of State Parks should continue under Oregon State Highway Commission direction or under an entirely new agency. The State Park Study and Advisory Committee advocated such measures as publicizing state parks to increase their use and scheduling hearings to learn public desires concerning state parks. Its report of findings, including recommendations for the future administration and management of Oregon State Parks, was submitted to Patterson's successor, Governor Elmo Smith, in July 1956.
Not surprisingly, the committee's conclusion was that "so long as parks are financed solely from highway revenue, jurisdiction should remain with the Highway Commission." Furthermore, the committee suggested the creation of an advisory board of citizens, nominated by the Highway Commission and appointed by the governor, representing broad public interests, to function as an agency of the Highway Commission. The board would relieve the Highway Commission of much of its detailed work concerning programs. It would advise on policy, conduct legislative studies and recommend needed park law changes to the Legislative Assembly. The new advisory board would undertake additional studies for future park programs, development of county park and recreation departments and coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local park agencies. In August 1957, a Parks Advisory Committee was appointed by Governor Smith. Commencing in 1958, the Parks Advisory Committee met regularly with staff to review park matters.
The first formal statement of administrative policy was developed for Oregon State Parks in 1957. Criteria for the acquisition of park areas included accessibility to the public, recreation, attractive features and geographical balance. Oregon's parks were to be developed to meet public recreational needs. They were to be maintained in a neat and sanitary fashion with roads maintained by the Oregon Highway Department. Oregon's state parks were free to public entry with fees charged only for special services, such as overnight camping, electrical hook-ups for trailers and so on. River, stream and lake access was to be provided where possible in park areas. Non-conforming uses, such as grazing and salvage logging, could be allowed if not detrimental to park interests. Hunting was generally prohibited in state parks.
In 1957, the decision was made to have park field employees wear uniforms so as to be easily identified by the public seeking information and assistance. The original uniforms were gray with green shoulder patches.
In accordance with the report of the State Park Study and Advisory Committee, best known today as the Tugman Report (for the committee chairman), the 1959 Oregon Legislative Assembly amended existing statutes concerning state parks and renamed the organization the State Parks and Recreation Division.
In the early 1960s, initial efforts in park interpretation were begun at Fort Stevens State Park near Astoria. The program included a nature trail, and talks were given by seasonal personnel, often students from college programs specializing in visitor interpretation.
One result of Oregon Outdoor Recreation, the statewide non-urban parks and recreation study of 1962, was the realization by the Highway Commission of the increasing demand for public recreational areas and facilities, particularly for camping. Accordingly, the Parks and Recreation budget was increased substantially in the 1963-1965 biennium to help with land acquisition and development. During the 1965-1967 biennium an additional $2.5 million was provided for these purposes.
In the 1960s, State Parks land acquisition policy was to acquire key tracts of land, but to limit purchase of private land. The federal government was encouraged to transfer surplus lands to the state for park purposes. Oregon law in 1963 authorized the Parks agency to acquire and develop scenic or historic places.
Following a recommendation of the National Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, the United States Congress in 1964 passed the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, which provided a fund to assist state and federal agencies in meeting public outdoor recreation needs. In Oregon, the federal matching grants aided state recreation planning, development and acquisition. In addition, pass-through grants were funneled to local governments for recreation development and acquisition. Coordination of this work was delegated to the state recreation director in the Parks and Recreation Division. Thus, the State Parks and Recreation Division became a focal point for coordinating federal, state, local and private efforts in outdoor recreation. The agency also acquired the responsibility for statewide comprehensive outdoor recreation planning.
Following a test of the public access rights to the shore at Cannon Beach and considerable furor reflected in the media and in the legislative proceedings, a beach protection bill was passed by the Oregon Legislative Assembly and signed by Governor Tom McCall on July 6, 1967. This vested ocean shore public rights in the state of Oregon. After the law was enacted, a survey was made to establish a permanent landward public beach zone line.
On February 2, 1967, Governor Tom McCall issued an executive order creating a Governor's Willamette River Greenway Committee, which was to recommend boundaries of a Willamette River greenbelt and report on ways and means of securing state jurisdiction over lands adjacent to the river. The State Highway Commission, through its Parks and Recreation Branch, was given responsibility for implementing the order.
The Legislative Assembly supported the concept in statute in 1967 but elicited a temporary name change to "Governor's Willamette River Park System Committee" to assuage the concerns of private land owners. The Willamette River Parks plan emphasized acquisition and development by local government with regulatory functions, grants and technical assistance provided by the State Parks Division. The monies passed through to local governments were obtained in part from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. A number of local parks were created along the Willamette River, but there was considerable opposition from farm land owners. In 1973, the Oregon Legislative Assembly revised the law to protect farmers and to require the State Parks agency to develop and adopt a Greenway Plan, which also would be adopted by the new Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC). After much controversy, LCDC adopted the Greenway Plan and established boundaries in 1976. In the next three years, three new regional state parks and 43 recreation areas were developed along the Willamette.
Earlier, in 1970, the voters passed an initiative establishing an Oregon Scenic Waterways Act that designated six rivers to be preserved in their natural free-flowing condition. The rivers were the Minam and segments of the Deschutes, Illinois, John Day, Owyhee and Rogue Rivers.
The Oregon Transportation Commission, through the State Parks and Recreation Division, was given responsibility for managing programs under the Scenic Waterways Act. The program managers are aided by the Governor's Scenic Waterways System Committee. The program protected the aesthetic and scenic values of the waterways by promoting compatible uses of adjoining lands. There was a governor-appointed citizen advisory group, the Deschutes River Scenic Waterway Recreation Management Committee, which assembled a recreational use and development plan for the lower Deschutes River. In 1988, Oregon passed Ballot Measure 7, which increased the system of protected waterways to 19 rivers and Waldo Lake, and the federal Oregon Omnibus Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1988 added a number of rivers under U. S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management administration.
Where recreation use and conservation matters are in potential conflict, careful planning and control are necessary to protect quality recreation and scenic values. The first statewide management plan for scenic waterways was developed in 1971.
In 1971, the Oregon Legislative Assembly passed the Oregon Recreation Trails System Act to provide for expanding recreation needs and protect public access to the outdoors. The State Parks and Recreation agency was directed to coordinate an interconnected system of hiking, horseback, biking, and bicycle trails. The most notable of these are the Pacific Crest Trail, which is part of a national system and follows the length of the Cascade Range, and the Oregon Coast Trail, which links parks along the coast from Astoria to Brookings. A State Recreation Trails plan was completed in 1979.
At the same time concern was being expressed about preservation of scenic and recreational assets there was a parallel interest in the preservation of historic sites and buildings. In 1966, Congress enacted the National Historic Preservation Act, which provided for a national program to inventory, register and protect places of historic interest. A program of federal matching grants-in-aid was created and, in Oregon, the Parks and Recreation Division administered it. Initially, the state Highway engineer acted in the capacity of state liaison officer for the historic preservation program, but the State Parks superintendent was designated state historic preservation officer in 1973. In 1969, the first matching funds for development of the Statewide Inventory of Historic Properties were obtained from the U. S. Department of the Interior.
Administratively, the most important change in the 1960s was creation of the State Department of Transportation by the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 1969. The new department (ODOT) consolidated the Highway Department and its Parks Branch with Motor Vehicles, Aeronautics, Ports and Mass Transit under the control of a State Transportation Commission. The State Parks and Recreation Branch continued as an administrative unit of the ODOT Highway Division until 1979, when, by action of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, it became a separate and co-equal division of the Department of Transportation. With this development, the title of State Parks superintendent was changed in conformance with the statute to State Parks administrator.
An important development of the 1970s which affected resource management and coordinating activities of the State Parks agency was creation of the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) and its subordinate department.
Following the energy crisis in the late 1970s, when gasoline tax revenues were severely reduced, there was public pressure for non-gas tax funding of state park and recreation operations. In 1980, the public passed a constitutional amendment precluding use of the Oregon Highway Fund for state police and park purposes. The Parks and Recreation agency has since been supported by General Fund monies from the Legislative Assembly, park user fees, recreation vehicle (RV) fees, federal funds and miscellaneous sources.
While severance of the State Parks agency from the Highway Fund ultimately has created greater public awareness of state park matters, shortages in state General Fund monies resulted in park budget reductions. In the years from 1980 to 1989, while the Parks and Recreation Division remained in the Department of Transportation, only limited funds were available for state park purposes.
During the 1980s, plans were developed and legislative appropriations sought for park development of the former railroad right-of-way.
During the 1980s, the State Parks agency made a number of efforts to offset rising costs and declining income caused by the loss of Highway Fund revenues, the reduction of federal aid programs for parks and recreation and the depressed Oregon economy. One such effort was creation of the park host volunteer program in March, 1980. Originally started in some state park campgrounds, this successful program has expanded over the years to encompass all the campgrounds and many other facilities in the Oregon State Parks system.
In 1983, a state parks cost responsibility study was initiated to confront the issue of financing park operations.
In 1985, the Oregon Legislative Assembly authorized the administrator of the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Division to make agreements with private, non-profit cooperative associations to foster or operate interpretive and educational facilities at local, regional or state parks. The first such organization was established as early as 1969 and had been instrumental in the creation of Tryon Creek State Park in 1971.
In December, 1987, the Oregon Transportation Commission appointed the State Parks 2010 Citizen Committee and charged its members to make recommendations for and aid the production of a 20-year plan. The 2010 Plan was produced in December, 1988, and provided dollar estimates for committee recommendations on the following subjects: rehabilitation of park facilities, land acquisition, campgrounds, special needs of the public, interpretive services, ocean beaches, recreational trails, scenic waterways, marketing the system and coordination of outdoor recreation in Oregon.
When presented the plan, Governor Neil Goldschmidt, asked whether the necessary funds for implementation were likely to be available under prevailing circumstances. On receiving a doubtful answer, the governor suggested State Parks probably should be in a separate department under its own commission.
A bill was introduced in the 1989 Oregon Legislative Assembly for the creation of a State Parks and Recreation Department. Although there was some opposition to the transfer, the measure was passed by both branches of the Legislative Assembly and signed by Governor Goldschmidt on August 2, 1989.
The act became effective January 1, 1990, and, among other things, it created a State Parks and Recreation Department separate from the Department of Transportation, established a governor-appointed, seven-member State Parks and Recreation Commission having authority to appoint the department director, and it defined duties of the director and departmental authority.
The Business Services Division provides administrative support for the agency in personnel, payroll and other matters. The division consists of the Real Estate Unit which initiates and responds to the acquisition and disposal of real property by the agency and oversees agency property as well. The Recreation Trails Unit oversees the formation of a network of statewide trails for hiking, biking, and equestrian use.
The Director's Office is the executive head of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and is responsible to the State Parks and Recreation Commission for administration of the Department. These duties include administration of the department, providing leadership and direction in the formation and execution of policy, and financial oversight of the agency budget. The Director by statute has rule making authority to administer Land and Conservation Fund and Recreation Vehicle Grants to local jurisdictions, and rule making authority to approve master plans for all state parks.
The Park Operations Division oversees the operations of the state parks and their administrative units. The Area Offices Unit oversee Law/Code Enforcement and the issuance of citations for violations by park visitors. The Parks and Prisons Unit contracts production of objects and facilities through Inmate Work Program. The State Parks in the division are overseen by the Park Managers. The managers also oversees Volunteers and "Friends" groups members and deals with visitor complaints. The Park Rangers do maintenance, construction, operation, and rehabilitation of State parks, waysides and recreational areas.
The State Park Management Unit provides Administrative Support for the state parks in preparing essentially all personnel forms, processing and/or inputting all purchasing and payroll documents, preparing statistical reports and general correspondence, and for providing requesting information to the staff and to the public.
The Planning and Development Division contains the Engineering and Design unit which oversees engineering and design for the department. The unit is responsible for all engineering-type designs, plans and specifications and for administering construction contracts. The unit also surveys and maps projects in the state parks as well as establishing the boundaries of park property. The Planning and Resources unit oversees two programs. The Master Planning program prepares master plans for OPRD properties, evaluates proposed park sites, and conducts special studies related to recreational use and development. The Master Planning program is conducting an ongoing Willamette River Greenway Resource Assessment of the Willamette River. The Natural Resource Management program, assesses, evaluates, and classifies natural resources on OPRD properties and other areas under OPRD management. The program consists of the Ecologist who oversees the status of wildlife and the Forester who oversees the status of the forests under OPRD control.
The Land Use/Ocean Shores unit oversees Land Use Planning program to develops and administers standardized land use policies and review procedures and the Ocean Shores Planning program evaluates permit applications for construction, installation of utilities, and removal of sand and other natural products along the ocean shore.
The Policy and Planning Division oversees Outdoor Recreation Services unit. The unit runs four programs. The Deschutes Scenic Waterway Recreation Area/Boater Pass program is developing a cooperative recreation management plan and implement a permit system and build institutional and physical infrastructure to support specific recreation goals. The program will oversee a notification process for development along the Deschutes Scenic Waterway. The Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) program provides an overall strategy for state local, federal, and private recreation agencies operating in the State of Oregon. The Willamette River Greenway program provides oversight and management of 8000 acres along the Willamette River. The program evaluates proposals for development in that would effect OPRD holding and coordinates the agency response with effected parks and regional offices. The State Scenic Waterways program manages and administers scenic waterways for the State of Oregon.
The Reservations Northwest runs a centralized reservation center providing reservation services for state parks and recreation agencies. The center schedules reservations for both Washington and Oregon and maintains a central computer reservation system.
The State Historic Preservation Office oversees cooperative efforts with governments at all levels and other parties to preserve the cultural and historic resources of Oregon. SHPO documents and protects archeological sites and disburses federal grants in support of archeological investigations. The office maintains the Statewide Inventory of Historical Properties and oversees applications for the National Register of Historic Places. The office has a role in the certification of local governments for historical preservation work and monitors compliance with federal, state, and local rules and regulations. The division works with the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation and the Oregon Heritage Commission.
Oregon's Highway Park System, 1921-1989, Lawrence Merriam, 1992.
History of the Oregon State Parks, Chester Armstrong, 1965.
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department 1997-99 Biennial Budget.
Oregon Parks and Recreation website: www. prd. state. or.us.
Oregon Blue Books.Secretary of State. 1945-1997.
Oregon Revised Statutes. 1997.
Primary Agency Statutes and Administrative Rule Chapters
OAR Chapter 736
ORS Chapter 390