Oregon Caves
Historic Structures Report

Recommendations for Programmatic Use and Development

Over the past two years, the National Park Service has developed a new General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the Oregon caves National Monument. The final version contains four alternatives, A through D. Each alternative forces the NPS to play a slightly different role at the Monument, and impacts to many areas under each alternative are examined. Areas such as viewshed protection, building use, trail maintenance, protection of cultural resources (including the five historic structures in the National Register District established at the Monument), visitor services, and cave interpretation are covered in the document, among others. The author was supplied with the December 1997 draft of the GMP, and informed that the information would be essentially the same in the final version.

The four alternatives have different impacts on the historic structures at the Monument, especially the Chateau. However, every alternative lists the protection of historic structures within the Oregon Caves Historic District as a primary goal. The NPS states that "the visual ambiance and character of the historic district would also be retained and protected in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act and NPS policies." (page 13) The next page of the list of common actions for all alternatives, however, is contrary to this statement. In action #11, it is stated that the NPS will seek a "suitable alternative for Port Orford cedar siding — Since Port Orford cedar is becoming more difficult to locate due to the Port Orford cedar root rot, a suitable alternative would be found to replace Port Orford cedar for use as siding for the historic buildings in the National Register historic district." (page 14) The replacement of the historic siding material would have an adverse effect on the historic resources, and the "visual ambiance and character" of the buildings would be substantially altered. The National Park Service is characteristically an excellent steward of historic structures, but the consideration of this proposed action and the irreversible nature of the alteration must be considered. This action would result in a significant loss of historic integrity in both appearance and materials, and should not be considered as a treatment option. As stated in the exterior assessment and recommendations section, the siding should be preserved at any cost.

The first of the four alternatives is Alternative A: No Action Alternative. Under this, conditions would remain the same at the Monument, which would continue to operate under the guidelines of the 1994 Resource Management Plan. The Oregon Caves Company would continue to manage and operate the Chateau, with responsibility for the maintenance of the structure. The company's maintenance responsibility extends five feet from the building, so the concessionaire would be responsible for the majority of the work proposed in this report. The Chateau would continue in its historic function, and would be open to the public.

Alternative B is known as the Minimum Requirements Alternative. Under this alternative, the NPS would acquire all the existing possessory interest in the structures on the Monument held by the concessionaire. Under the current arrangement, the concessionaire retains all rights and responsibilities of ownership of the buildings, except for legal title. The title remains vested with the United States. It includes the right to just compensation for the depreciated value of the company's investment in the structures, estimated to be $825,000. To acquire this interest, the NPS could either buy the company out or "extinguish" the interest over a 30 year period. At the end of the 30 years, the company's interest in the structures would be depreciated to zero. The cost of this action is offset by a reduction in franchise fee payments, required under the Special Use Permit granted to the concessionaire. This method of acquiring interest in the structure is potentially dangerous, for if the concessionaire knows that their interest is being extinguished they could elect to neglect the structure and save money. At the end of the 30 year term, the building could potentially be in very bad condition without any investment by the company in building maintenance.

The use and function of the Chateau is most seriously affected by this alternative. The building would cease to serve its historic function, instead being adaptively reused and converted into NPS administrative offices and collection storage. The plan states that "some alterations may need to be made to the upper floors of the Chateau in order to accommodate the administrative offices and related communications equipment and office configurations." (22) The lobby area and coffee shop level of the Chateau would be retained and open to the public under this plan, but lodging would no longer be provided in the building for the public. The loss of function and the impact on the visitor experience in the building represent a loss for the Chateau. The alterations are objectionable as they would destroy, possibly irreversibly, the historic fabric, which has retained a very high level of integrity. The plan represents a significant public impact, and a potential loss of a historic resource for the public. The Chateau's National Historic Landmark status warrants its preservation with the fewest alterations possible, and the function of the building should also be preserved in order to allow the public to appreciate the historic character of the Chateau.

Alternative C is the preferred National Park Service alternative. It is titled the "Enhanced Protection of Monument Resources and Visitor Experiences." Under this plan, the NPS would acquire possessory interest in all structures at the Monument, including the Chateau. The building would continue to operate in its historic function, under the direction of a concessionaire who leases the structure from the NPS. National Park Service ownership of the structure may provide a better maintenance alternative than the current system, and accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards would be followed. Currently, the concessionaire occasionally proceeds with alterations to the structure without a Section 106 review. One example is the walls within the dining area on the third floor. They were erected without the proper review process, an issue which is potentially avoided by NPS ownership. This plan provides the best alternative of the four for the building, as it retains its historic function and remains fully open to the public.

The final alternative provides for "Increased Visitor Services and Recreation Opportunities Combined With Increased Watershed Protection." (49) Under this alternative, the operation of the Chateau would continue under a concessionaire similar to the current condition and Alternative A. It is not as objectionable as Alternative B, but perhaps not as favorable as Alternative C, the preferred alternative. However, the building has lasted 65 years under the direction of the concessionaire, and there is no reason to think that the level of care given the building would change.

Alternative C, the preferred NPS alternative, would provide the best option for the preservation of the historic Chateau. The historic function would be retained, and the building would not be substantially altered (with the possible exception of the siding issue discussed earlier, which should not be considered). This alternative is superior from a preservation standpoint as well, as the NPS is an excellent steward of historic structures.

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Last Updated: 22-Sep-2001