Oregon State Parks Centennial Essay


Waterfall over rocks surrounded by fall foiliage on rocky hillside.
Silver Falls State Park is considered a gem of the park system. Shown here is Lower South Falls.​ (Oregon State Archives scenic photo)
The Oregon State Parks system celebrates 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). In 1913, the Oregon State Legislature created the Oregon State Highway Commission, taking the first step toward creating state parks. In 1947, the Commission created a state parks unit, which in 1963 the legislature authorized to “obtain and develop scenic and historical places.” In 1989, the legislature created the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and in 1998, voters decided that 7.5% of Oregon Lottery revenue would be dedicated to state parks. Today the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) hosts 42 million visitors a year.

The centennial of Helmick’s gift is a time to celebrate the parks’ many one-of-a-kind stories. The stories range from the profound, like the beach bills that preserved Oregon’s coast for public use, to the wacky, like daredevil Al Faussett’s 1928 boat trip over a 184-foot waterfall at Silver Falls State Park. Sublime, silly, significant – the state parks’ stories are the stories of Oregon.

OPRD’s mission is “to provide and protect outstanding natural, scenic, cultural, historic and recreational sites for the enjoyment and education of present and future generations.” Oregon’s scenic wonders and cultural artifacts, its history and its places to play are inseparable. For example, at Oswald West State Park, hikers can climb forest cliffs, admire seals sunning on the beach, and, sometimes, discover clumps of beeswax from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon that explored the Pacific Northwest in the 1700s. Scenery, recreation, history — the parks present them all.


About the Writer

Written by Kristine Deacon. Deacon is a graduate of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and was a journalist at the Bend Bulletin and the Statesman-Journal, in Salem, before becoming a Pacific Northwest historian.​

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