John Muir's Mount Hood
"The Ruling Spirit of the Landscape"
By Ronald Eber
Mount Hood is the symbol and image of Oregon. In John
Muir's words, it is "the pride of
Oregonians," their "mountain of mountains." It's awesome
beauty reminds us of Oregon's unique
livability. It guided Lewis and Clark and countless
settlers on the final leg of their journey down
the Columbia to the "Eden at the end of the Trail." Today,
it inspire's Oregonians to rethink how
best to protect it from all those who love it so much.
Some now advocate that Mount Hood National Forest be
redesignated as a National Scenic
Recreation Area. In evaluating this goal, it is important
to understand what John Muir and other
conservationists thought of the mountain and about their
efforts protect it.
John Muir was inspired by Mount Hood and his early writings
furthered it's reputation as the
"glory of the country." From the "heights back of
Portland" in 1888, Muir could see the summits
of Mounts Hood, Jefferson, St. Helen's, Adams and Rainier.
But Mount Hood captured his
imagination and held his eyes "in devout and awful
interest." "There stood Mount Hood," he
wrote, "in all the glory of the alpine glow looming
immensely high..." Muir's vision captured the
special presence that Mount Hood brings to the Oregon
"It gives the supreme touch of grandeur to all the
main Columbia views, rising at
every turn, solitary, majestic, awe-inspiring, the
ruling spirit of the landscape."
Such sentiments were not new to Oregonians. The Oregon
Alpine Club (later the Mazamas) was
founded in 1887 and led many outings and climbs to the
mountain. Efforts to protect the forest
lands surrounding Mount Hood and throughout the Cascades
began in the Oregon Legislature as
early as 1889. The first Forest Reserve (later National
Forest) established in Oregon and one of
the first in the country was proclaimed in 1892 around the
Bull Run Watershed. President
Harrison set aside 142,080 acres to protect the City of
Portland's water supply. The rest of
Mount Hood and the Cascades were reserved from private
claims by President Cleveland in 1893.
The Cascade Range Reserve covered over four million acres,
and stretched from Mount Hood to
Crater Lake. The Oregon National Forest was separated from
the Cascade Reserve in 1908 and
renamed Mount Hood in 1924.
Unfortunately, early surveys to establish National Parks
and Monuments overlooked Mount
Hood. It's beauty was all too common when compared with
the early parks and monuments
created in the Pacific Northwest: Mount Rainier, Crater
Lake and the Olympic Mountains. But
interest in its beauty and forests did not diminish.
Efforts to reduce the Cascade Reserve were
protested and stopped by the Mazamas and Sierra Club in
1896. The Clubs's resolution stated:
"These reservations [should] be extended rather than
diminished even to the
extent of prohibiting the sale to private parties of
any portion of forest land
included in the public domain."
With protection from private claims secured, recreational
activities gained greater public interest.
The Sierra Club's first outing outside of California was a
joint venture with the Mazamas to climb
Mounts Hood and Rainier in 1905. As Oregon grew, so did
interest in the outdoors and the
forested slopes of Mount Hood and the Cascades. No longer
did Mount Hood just "loom up' on
Millions came to the mountains to climb and camp and for
rest and solitude. The Mount Hood
Primitive Area (later wilderness) was established in 1931.
Timberline Lodge was built in 1937
and cabins were available in the Olallie Recreation Area
(designated as Scenic Area in 1969).
Both provided new attractions and access to the mountain.
Again there was interest in creating a
National Park around Mount Hood. In 1938, the National
Park Service found that the Cascade
Range in Oregon and Washington included areas suitable for
either "one great national park--or
two parks" with "one in Washington and one in Oregon." The
Report noted that large tracts of
the Cascade Range were already designated as recreational
areas because "their value for
recreation exceeds their value for commercial utilization."
From Mount Baker in the north to
Mount Hood on the Columbia and on south to the Three
Sisters, the proposed new park would
"reserve some of the finest and most spectacular scenery of
the country, and would preserve areas
whose best uses are for watershed control, game
preservation, and education and recreation."
Unfortunately, World War II erupted and the proposals were
set aside and lost in the coming war.
After WW II, a frantic building boom brought industrial
forestry and the "fierce storm of steel" to
the Cascades. With this, the intense conflict between
logging and wilderness recreation began in
earnest as well as efforts to protect the remaining
wilderness around Mount Hood.
When the Wilderness Act was enacted in 1964, the 30,000
acre Mount Hood Wilderness area,
one of the first in the country, was designated around the
mountain summit. An additional 17,000
acres of forest land was added in 1978. Wild and Scenic
River designations are now in place for
the Clackamas, White, Salmon and Sandy rivers and in 1984,
four additional wilderness areas
totaling over 141,000 acres were established. These are
the Columbia (now Hatfield), Salmon
Huckleberry, Badger Creek and Bull of the Woods. In the
1987, the Columbia Gorge National
Scenic Area provided additional protection to the flanks of
Mount Hood along the Columbia
Gorge including Multnomah Falls which Muir believed "worthy
of a place beside the famous falls
of the Yosemite Valley."
Despite this long history of interest and protective
efforts something seems missing. Mount Hood
is more than just a mountain to climb, source of timber and
water, forest, wildlife sanctuary,
scenic, recreation or wilderness area. The multitude of
planning designations and varying
protective efforts have fragmented Oregon's "the mountain
of mountains." Its future protection
requires a new unifying vision of it's place in the region
if it is to remain, as John Muir wrote:
"the ruling spirit of the landscape."
To read more about John Muir's impressions of Mount Hood and Oregon, see:
Ronald Eber is free-lance writer about Oregon's conservation history.
| Alphabetical Index
| What's New
| Message Board