Buried under a blanket of more than 9 feet of snow, Crater Lake is a Mecca for snowshoers and cross-country skiers.
In summer, it’s a hiker’s paradise, with 24 trails that wind through the park’s diverse landscape, including the rim of the blue, deep-water lake. Pristine, old-growth forests, glacier-carved cliffs, wildflower-embroidered meadows and towering, jagged peaks create jaw-dropping vistas at every turn.
Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake had more than 615,000 visitors in 2015, and in 2016 approximately 750,000 people came to see the lake at the bottom of a caldera formed 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama erupted.
However, only about one-third of those visitors explored the park’s 183,000 acres beyond Rim Village or ventured past the popular viewpoints along the 33-mile Rim Drive, says Jennifer Gifford, the park’s trail supervisor.
“But we are seeing a good increase in more people getting out of their cars and out on the trails,” she adds.
She hopes that number will grow even more.
Crater Lake officials are in the preliminary stages of developing a 25-year trail management plan — the park's first. At a series of open houses this week, they will unveil proposals for a network of hiking, biking, running, skiing and snowshoeing trails that will make the park more accessible to more visitors year-round. All trails are nonmotorized.
Proposals to enhance winter and summer trail use are “just ideas,” she says. “Ideas garnered from previous conversations with stakeholders. Nothing is carved in stone.”
The first open house, scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today at the REI store in Medford, and a public comment period that runs until March 1, are intended to begin the conversation again about “what the public wants in their park,” she adds.
The Park Service is encouraging feedback on how to:
- Improve and diversify recreation opportunities;
- Improve connectivity between points of interest;
- Reduce user-created trails;
- Eliminate unsustainable and underutilized routes;
- Protect park resources.
New trails may be created, while older trails could be eliminated or enhanced.
One consideration is constructing a full-loop trail around the rim of Crater Lake.
“We are conducting our initial public scoping to see what the public would like the trail system to be,” says Sean Denniston, park management assistant and the point person for the project. “While it is reasonable to expect that new trails will be proposed, the park must develop a plan that is sustainable. We will be looking at decommissioning little-used or unsustainable trails.”
At this stage, it’s “big-picture thinking,” says Jennifer Evans, public information specialist. “We want to know what the public values … it’s their park.
“As diverse as our visitors are … the trails and the experiences they seek are equally as diverse.”
The park currently has 95 miles of trails, including 33 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which snakes through the park on its way from Mexico to Canada. Each year, about 1,500 backpackers make the trek in from the Sky Lakes Wilderness area.
The publication of the book “Wild” and the release of a movie based on the book caused “a huge spike” in backcountry use, says Gifford.
Most hikers, however, stick to the “front country” — recreational areas along the crater’s rim.
About 20,000 people each year explore the trails near the spectacular Watchman Peak overlook and along the Garfield-Applegate Ridge, says Gifford.
The most popular trail in the park is the Cleetwood Cove Trail — the only path that leads to the bottom of the caldera. Some 50,000 pairs of feet descend the steep, 1.1-mile hike down to the shore of America’s deepest lake each year.
There is no plan to create another trail down to the lakeshore, because the crumbly caldera creates logistical problems, officials say.
Another aspect of the trail management plan is tapping into a revenue stream of “sustainable funding,” park officials say.
About $100,000 is currently allocated to maintaining trails — $50,000 is used each spring “just to open trails for the summer season,” says Gifford. Construction costs would go above and beyond.
About 80 percent of park entrance fees each year fund “projects that support the visitor experience,” says Marsha McCabe, who oversees interpretation and cultural resources. Trails are part of that experience, she adds.
Both Denniston and McCabe point out that designing a “holistic, comprehensive” trail management plan is a perfect opportunity to create new destinations and new interpretive areas.
The recent creation of the Plaikni Falls trail is a case in point, says McCabe.
“We have an opportunity to introduce folks to the other amazing places in the park … beautiful areas folks can access more readily.”
At today’s open house, officials will introduce the purpose and goals of the plan, present an outline of the proposed actions with maps and planning schedule, and field questions for public comments. A finalized working document isn’t expected until spring 2019.
Additional open houses are planned in Klamath Falls and Bend.
Comments on the proposed action can be submitted during a 30-day public scoping period. Closing date is March 1, 2017. Comments can be submitted online, or sent by mail or email. The preferred method for receiving comments is via the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/tmpfeedback. Once on the website, select “Open for Comment” to provide your thoughts.
Mailed comments should be sent to: Planning Team, Trail Management Plan, Crater Lake National Park, P.O. Box 7, Crater Lake, Oregon, 97604.
Emailed comments can be sent to: email@example.com.