John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter Two:

Oregon's highway park system

Establishment of all three state parks took place during the period when the Oregon State Highway Department had oversight of state parks, a situation which lasted until 1979. [1] The state highway department (which has since been consolidated into the Oregon Department of Transportation) is not dependent on appropriations from the Oregon Legislature, being largely funded by gasoline taxes and automobile license fees. Overseeing it is the Oregon State Highway Commission (OSHC), a citizen body appointed by the governor since 1917. [2]

A park system tied to highways began in 1921, but did not gather momentum until state law authorized the OSHC to acquire right-of-way specifically for park purposes in 1925. [3] That year revenues from Oregon's gasoline tax began to support its highway system, which allowed state parks to have fairly stable funding until 1977. [4] Over this fifty year period, the acreage in Oregon's park system grew mainly through administrative fiat (in that state parks directors acted as agents for the OSHC in selecting and developing sites as parks) rather than from establishing individual parks through legislation. With more land in parks came increased use, and Oregon's system grew to become one of the most heavily used in the nation.

Two members of the OSHC furnished the spark for this to occur. Upon his appointment to the three member OSHC in July 1927, Robert W. Sawyer joined with chairman Henry B. Van Duzer to greatly increase the number of state park sites acquired during the next year and a half. The first two state parks in the upper John Day Basin appeared during this period, with both intended as small roadside rest areas. Shelton Wayside, located on what is now State Highway 19, began as a three acre gift from the Kinzua Lumber Company in 1927. [5] Another donor gave the state eight-tenths of an acre adjacent to Highway 19 at Johnny Kirk Spring a year later. [6]

Not only did Sawyer support having more areas, but he also wanted larger parks with adequate management. [7] Sawyer saw the highway department's engineers as primarily concerned with road building and maintenance, with little time to devote to parks. He did not, however, support taking the parks away from the highway department. Instead, Sawyer proposed that a superintendent be hired by the highway department to provide ongoing direction for the state parks. [8] He eventually prevailed upon Van Duzer, and in August 1929, they selected Samuel H. Boardman for the job of state parks superintendent.

Boardman served as superintendent until his retirement in 1950. He emphasized land acquisition, especially along the Oregon Coast, and is certainly the single greatest influence on what has become part of the state parks system. During his 21 years as superintendent, Boardman secured almost two-thirds of what now is a system of 90,000 acres. In doing this, he often exercised his ability to persuade property owners to give or sell land on generous terms for parks. [9]

map of Oregon State Parks
State parks in the John Day Basin (bottom) at the beginning and end of Sam Boardman's tenure as the system's superintendent.
Larger scale depictions of western Oregon (top) are shown for comparison to highlight how the number of state parks grew,
especially on the Oregon Coast, over the same period.
(from Lawrence C. Merriam, Jr., Oregon's Highway Park System, 1989)

Next> Establishment of a park near Sheep Rock

Sheep Rock | Painted Hills | Clarno

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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002