The first time I visited Crater Lake National Park, the November wind was so cold that my lips became numb. My cheeks soon succumbed to the cold as well and, eventually, so did my entire face. I’d neglected to bring a hat, so in an act of creative desperation, I tied my scarf around my ears and chin. This helped a little. I also wore a puffy down jacket and wool socks tucked into all-weather hiking boots, but I was still shivering. It was just that kind of deep, unrelenting cold. Nonetheless, I remained at the viewpoint, where I stared—mesmerized—into the lake. That velvet-blue water held the mystery of ancient things, much like the Redwood trees, or the silent motion of a shooting star. The silver peaks rimming the lake seemed to funnel the sky down into it. And the reflection of clouds on the water, the empty ripple of the wind against my cocooned ears, the unsteady confluence of blues—it was all worth it. I had no desire to escape the cold.
I’m not the only one who has been captivated by Crater Lake. Visitation to Oregon’s only National Park has been steadily growing over the last three years. According to a survey by the National Park Service, the annual number of visitors at Crater Lake has increased from 447,251 people in 2012, to 523,027 people in 2013, to 619,469 people in 2014.
Visitation has been increasing in parks across Oregon and around the nation. Not only is it good to hear that people are getting out and enjoying our state’s natural beauty, but this is also great news for the economy. In 2014, visitors to the six Oregon parks and monument sites run by the National Park Service spent around $71.6 million and supported 1,224 jobs.
Outdoor recreation has enjoyed a demonstrated surge in popularity, which is especially helpful in providing an economic boost to communities near places like Crater Lake; more tourists mean more money, more jobs, and a better quality of life. And, best of all, this economic upswing is supported, not by exploiting the land for its resources, but by celebrating its beauty.
Of all the breathtaking landscapes Oregon has to offer, Crater Lake is undoubtedly the most iconic. Tourists come from all over the globe to visit it, and, of course, they come bearing money. But what about the lands around Crater Lake? The forests and meadows just beyond the Park’s borders? At the moment, they exist without protection. They could be clear-cut or mined. Logging roads could scour the once fertile landscape.
Tourists come to Crater Lake in search of ruggedness and purity. They’re not looking for bald hills or barren fields of waste. And the wildlands bordering the national park are treasures in their own right; they provide vital habitat to wildlife and they keep our waters clean. Hills, buttes, high-altitude marshes; these are prime locations to expand recreational tourism through backpacking, hiking, snowshoeing, or kayaking.
If Crater Lake National Park and its surrounding lands are designated as Wilderness, they will receive the level of protection they deserve. As a National Park, Crater Lake is somewhat protected, but it’s still in danger of disturbances such as helicopter rides over the park and further development. We can do so much better. In fact, we need to do better. If we designate Crater Lake and its bordering lands as Wilderness, they’ll be preserved for future generations. That will mean a continuing increase in tourism, more money for surrounding communities, and a Crater Lake that forever remains as mesmerizing and wild as it is today. And the value of that—well, it’s simply unquantifiable.