Celebrating 100 Years of Oregon’s State Parks

A Look Back at Key Moments in the History of Our Parks

Sponsored content presented by Oregon Lottery.

Oregon State Parks celebrates their centennial this year, offering reflection on 100 years of special outdoor spaces. It’s hard to imagine Oregon without its state parks system. So many of Oregon’s 256 state parks have a unique history, and they’ve become accessible, popular, and protected thanks to voters like you, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), and the Oregon Lottery.

In 1922, the Oregon State Highway Commission established the state’s first park, a 5-acre Monmouth land donation from Sarah Helmick, and the Oregon State Parks system was born. Our parks system has come a long way since then, serving today as an aspirational model for other states shaped by a uniquely Oregonian commitment to preservation.

Let’s look back at some of the key moments in Oregon state park history.

1920s, Car Camping Drives State Parks Growth

Ford’s Model T dominated sales throughout the 1920s, and for the first time, cars became affordable for everyday Americans. Oregonians and out-of-state visitors began to explore Oregon’s highway system. Model Ts could comfortably be driven for about 100 miles per day, which meant that a trip from Oregon’s north to south border was about a three-day road trip. Car camping was a cost-effective way to rest overnight during long highway trips, and parks like Sarah Helmick made great rest stops.

1913 – 1967, Special Protection for Oregon’s Beaches

In 1913, Governor Oswald West worked with legislators to declare all state beaches as public highways. Back then, there was no road system, so many traveled stage routes down the beach. It was a landmark move in Oregon’s history that ensured the public would always have access to beaches, or so it seemed. Legal challenges came in the following decades, but in 1967, the matter was finally settled with the passage of the Tom McCall-championed Beach Bill, firmly establishing public access to all 362 miles of Oregon’s coastline.

1929, Samuel Boardman Revolutionizes State Parks

Samuel Boardman, often called the father of the state park system, became Oregon’s first park superintendent in 1929. Known for stubbornness and charisma, his visionary leadership helped grow the state parks system from 6,444 acres on 46 properties to 57,000-plus acres on 151 properties by 1950. One of his final acts as superintendent secured what is now known as Samuel Boardman State Park, a gorgeous twelve mile stretch of coastal land north of Brookings.

1952, Silver Falls and Wallowa Lake Open Overnight Campgrounds

Both Silver Falls State Park and Wallowa Lake State Park offer some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in Oregon. Silver Falls is popular for The Trail of Ten Falls, a nationally recognized trail that guides hikers through a 7.6-mile journey of dense forest, winding streams and deep ravines.

More recently, the OPRD began construction on an ADA accessible trail leading to a viewpoint at the park’s North Falls. This trail opens the Silver Falls experience to visitors with limited mobility.

Wallowa Lake State Park is the site of a stunning glacier lake backdropped by the Wallowa Mountains. Despite its popularity, the park remains in its natural state, free of commercial buildings, thanks in part to funding from the Oregon Lottery and the efforts of dedicated local and state organizations.

In 2020, the Wallowa Lake Moraines Partnership acquired 1,791 acres to be set aside as a working community forest. This designation extinguishes all development and sub-division rights and ensures that Wallowa Lake continues to be a special place for future generations.

1998 – 2010, Oregon Voters Approve Valuable Funding for State Parks

Voters established the Oregon Lottery in 1984 to fund economic development, but in the following decades, voter-approved amendments expanded to include other programs as beneficiaries. Voters approved State Parks as a beneficiary in 1998 and made it permanent with another vote in 2010, ensuring that a portion of profits generated by the play of lottery games would be a source of valuable funding for years to come.

Since 1999, play of popular lottery games like Powerball, Video Lottery, and Keno have generated nearly $900 million to help the OPRD purchase, improve, and maintain state parks, heritage sites, and community parks across the state.