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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 landscape:

"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 the horizon.

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.

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