Governor Ben Olcott addressed the 1921 Oregon State Legislature on the importance of conserving scenic beauty in Oregon and noted the urgent demands for conservation that recreational tourism had placed on the state. He remarked, “All of the things we have been striving for, the development of tourist travel; the urge to make and keep our state the most livable in the Union; the desire to keep our children in God’s own environment, surrounded by the beauties to which they are the true heirs, all of these will be surrendered and lost unless we act and act promptly.”1
Subsequent action by the Legislature made it possible for the State Highway Commission to acquire wayside land for beautification, and, as tourism increased, more communities requested public lands for recreation. This arrangement was especially influenced by the nature of the early Model T automobile that most families used for camping outings. Because these vehicles traveled only 30 miles an hour, families had to be strategic about the distance of their trips, and many families simply stopped along the highway where water was accessible.2
The growing need for overnight accommodations prompted the State Highway Commission to take further measures to acquire lands outside the highway right of way. Revisions to the 1921 Highway law widened the scope of the law and allowed the State Highway Commission to develop additional land. Expansion of the State Highway Commission’s land management program created the foundation for the state parks system and gifts of land soon followed. By 1929, the area managed by the commission was large enough that a State Parks Commission was founded to oversee further management of these areas. Railroad engineer and homesteader Samuel H. Boardman managed the newly formed State Parks Commission. During his tenure from 1929 to 1950, Boardman proved to be skilled at persuading local donors to support the parks effort, and, under his direction, park acreage grew from 4,000 to 66,000.
Beginning in 1933, these efforts were aided by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Oregon was a major site for CCC projects during the Great Depression, and the group employed thousands of young people across the state. CCC projects focused on forestry, fire protection, flood control and other land management tasks. Groups constructed trails and campgrounds still used today. Silver Creek Falls camp east of Salem and Multnomah’s Eagle Creek campground are results of CCC efforts.
Oregon is home to four national parks: Crater Lake, John Day Fossil Beds, Nez Perce National Historic Park and the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. These parks provide habitats for 11 endangered species while drawing over $81 million in tourism revenue. Oregon’s robust state parks system includes 193 parks covering 86,000 acres of land. Oregon’s Department of Parks and Recreation oversees state park lands and protects these “outstanding natural, scenic, cultural, historic and recreational sites for the enjoyment and education of present and future generations.”3 This includes not only managing state parks but also providing conservation grants and organizing historic preservation efforts.
Two-wheeled transportation has also had a significant effect on outdoor recreation since long before the development of the automobile. As early as the 1880s, Salem and Portland residents can be seen riding “penny-farthing bicycles” in archival photos. With the transition from these large front-wheeled “penny-farthing” bicycles to modern designs, the bicycling craze exploded in popularity, and advertisements for bicycles ran in the Salem Daily Capital Journal and other Oregon newspapers. The trend even inspired early “celebrity athlete” endorsements for various products as cycling grew from a novelty into a more common form of transportation and recreation.4
However, with the advent of auto transportation, cycling mostly fell out of favor until late in the 20th Century. It was around this time that Oregon was heavily involved with reigniting interest in cycling. Portland unveiled a Bicycle Master Plan in 1973, which improved riding and parking accommodations for bikes and organized promotional programs.
Further improvements put additional biking infrastructure in place and integrated bike use with public transport systems. Today, Oregon’s largest city is consistently ranked as one of the bike-friendliest cities in the country, with 7.2 percent of commuters travelling by bike compared to 0.5 percent nationwide.5
Rural Oregon also provides ample opportunity for recreational cycling in the form of scenic bikeways throughout the state. Oregon’s 15 state designated scenic bikeways showcase the best road biking routes in the state with options available for riders of all skill levels. Trails range from the casual 17-mile Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway along the Row River Trail to the rugged 108-mile Blue Mountain Scenic Bikeway in Heppner. Every September, Heppner’s Blue Mountain Bikeway hosts a challenging ride which leads riders through the Umatilla National Forest to Highway 395 up a nearly 4,000-foot climb.6 Other popular rides, such as Cycle Oregon, attract cyclists from around the world. Ashland innkeeper Jim Beaver originally proposed the ride in 1987, as a coastal ride between sister cities Astoria and Ashland. With support from the Oregon Department of Transportation and the local Chamber of Commerce, the inaugural Cycle Oregon ride took place in September 1988. In this 320-mile ride, 1,006 riders from 20 states traveled from Salem to Brookings, generating $360,000 for local communities along the way. Cycle Oregon is still going strong with over 2,000 participants each year.7