Oregon State Parks Centennial Exhibit

a detail of a brochure cover from the 1964 Portland Rose Festival
About the Exhibit

This slideshow exhibit uses photos and artwork to showcase 100 years of Oregon state parks. These gems of Oregon geography, geology, recreation, history and culture enrich lives and preserve priceless resources for future generations.


Drawing of woman looking through binoculars at scenery and 2 children waving.
Colorful 1958 artwork promoted tourism to Vista House, part of the state park system in the Columbia River Gorge. Illustrations from this period typically idealized families visiting state parks. (All artwork: Oregon State Library, Oregon Highway Department Tourism Promotion Campaign Review)​
Oregon State Parks shield with drawing of mountain and trees in center         
State parks represent the best of Oregon: from the dramatic vistas of the rugged coastline to the tranquil beauty of mountain lakes; from important historical sites to fascinating natural wonders. These are all under the umbrella of the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department. While the department in its current form is a more recent organization, the state park system is celebrating its centennial in 2022, a century after Oregon Trail pioneer Sarah Helmick donated land for the first state park (Sarah Helmick State Park, near Monmouth).

Of course, the large and impressive system of 256 state parks, heritage sites, natural areas, and related resources in every part of Oregon didn’t happen by accident. It was the product of foresight, persistence, and a bit of luck over the decades. Civic leaders in the early 1900s focused strongly on developing highways to “get Oregon out of the mud,” a reference to the typical condition of the state’s road system. As highways developed and provided better access, public interest grew in exploring the natural beauty of the state through visits to roadside parks, camping and related recreation.

Drawing of man looking through camera, woman pointing at sky and child pointing ahead.     
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The golden age of expansion for the state park system came while Samuel H. Boardman served as the first state parks superintendent from 1929 to 1950. He was remarkably successful at convincing Oregonians to donate land for parks. Boardman used his powers of persuasion while appealing to the Oregon State Highway Commission to fund key purchases, such as Silver Falls State Park and many of the coastal state parks. Without his timely and visionary efforts, many of Oregon’s most treasured parks would have been developed into residential or commercial properties.​

Although funding continues to present challenges, the State Parks and Recreation Department is still growing and succeeding at its mission “to provide and protect outstanding natural, scenic, cultural, historic and recreational sites for the enjoyment and education of present and future generations.” We hope you enjoy this centennial state parks slideshow.