“Back in the 20s and 30s, people just didn’t come up here,” recounted Sharon Lowrie, the park host.
The park almost didn’t receive forest protection. The verdant land, entrenched in the sloped hills of the Cascade Mountains, became a prime destination for the Silverton Lumber Co., which by 1913 had hauled 125,000,000 feet of logs to its Silverton Mill, reducing most of the area to stumps. The area was also ravaged by the Silverton Forest Fire, which in 1865 burned an estimated 1 million acres.
Then, Silver Falls found its own Ansel Adams: June Drake, a Silverton photographer who fought to preserve the area in the early 1900s.
Given the damage to the land, it was disqualified from consideration as a national park.
Undaunted, Drake gathered support from local business, chambers of commerce and the Oregon Highway Commission, until finally, on April 2, 1931, the Oregon State Park Commission deputized the first parcel of land into the Oregon State Park system.
During the Saturday celebration, little of the logging and wildfire past could be seen.
Lowrie says the Friends of Silver Falls and park rangers run a busy system of conservation: picking up garbage, maintaining the trails and 1,000-spot parking lots, and updating the old facilities.
“We’re trying to maintain it for generations to come,” Lowrie said.
The densely forested area is now filled with ferns, Douglas firs, Western hemlocks, vine maples, red cedars — and songbirds, nesting in the branches of the moss-covered trees.
It is also chock full of another factor — crowds — something volunteers and staff attribute to another unique part of the forest’s history: the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps.