How Have National Parks Changed Over Time?

Viewing photographs of different eras in the national parks can give many insights on ecosystem processes, as well as simply change over time. The photographs associated with panoramic lookout photographs provide a window on the past, and an opportunity to compare to the present with changes to land forms and land cover.


Crater Lake as viewed from The Watchman Lookout in 1935.

Crater Lake as seen from The Watchman Lookout was originally photographed by Lester Moe and Robert Snyder in 1933 as part of the US Forest Service project and rephotographed in 1935 for the National Park Service project.

The majority of documentation related to panoramic lookout photographs comes from the US Forest Service. The agency originally implemented the project around 1930 or ’31, but didn’t obtain funding to actually take a large amount of photographs for “’seen-area’ maps showing detection coverage provided by the existing lookout system” until 1933 when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established. We can assume that the National Park Service project that began in 1934 with an identical camera was for the same purposes.

The Forest Service project focused on Oregon and Washington, as well as a small portion of Idaho. Since the project focused on all federal and state lookout points, it included some locations that are National Park Service sites such as Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades national parks and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (NRA) Note: At the time the images were taken, Lake Chelan NRA was within a US Forest Service unit. The National Park Service project expanded well beyond the Pacific Northwest to 200 lookout locations across the entire United States.

Several innovations came about as a result of the Forest Service project. These included not only the camera used to take the photographs – the Osborne photo-recording transit – but also working with Eastman Kodak Co. as they developed a film that would not be affected by the smoke and haze so prevalent in the Cascades during the summer months. They used “special emulsion infra-red sensitive film that when used with red filters cut through haze and smoke miraculously.”

Material for this section credited to History of the Rogue River National Forest: Volume 2 – 1933-1969.