Senators join in Oregon Caves dedication

OREGON CAVES — The dignitaries who spoke at Friday’s celebration of the expansion of Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve painted a colorful portrait of “The Marble Halls of Oregon.”
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, who began working on the expansion nearly 20 years ago, seemed relieved. About 50 people were in attendance, including Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
“This will provide people with the idea that you can come here and stay longer,” said DeFazio, D-Springfield, who represents the park of rural Josephine County that includes the caves. “I’m just thrilled to have been part of it.”
Wyden sounded slightly like Dr. Seuss.
“Everybody raves about the Oregon Caves,” Wyden opened. “With this legislation, I believe Americans across the country will add the caves to their list of faves.”
Last year, Congress expanded the monument nearly 10-fold, from 480 acres to approximately 4,550. The legislation also made the stream under the caves, called River Styx, a scenic river under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a first for a fully subterranean waterway.
The expansion onto land once managed by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest was done to protect the watershed feeding the caves. For many years, cattle often roamed the banks of Bigelow Lakes in summer.
The national monument was rechristened as a “monument and preserve,” which means hunting will still be allowed in most of the area, although not within the smaller monument boundary itself.
While done primarily to protect the watershed, federal and local officials expect the expansion and new maps showing a much larger preserved area to attract more visitors to make the 20-mile journey from Cave Junction to the caves off the Redwood Highway.
“Without question, people are already noticing it more,” said Craig Ackerman, who was superintendent at the caves from 1991 to 2008 and is now superintendent at Crater Lake National Park. “I’ve talked to people … who met couples from New York, Germany and Australia. They heard it was a new unit of the National Park system.
“It wouldn’t have happened without a lot of people working on it together, piece by piece. It’s something people can be proud of.”
After a little history lesson by Merkley, who recounted the famous story of Elijah Davidson’s chance discovery of the caves in 1874, DeFazio spoke about the history of the monument.
He said President Theodore Roosevelt’s original proposal of 2,560 acres in 1909 somehow was reduced to 480 acres by Teddy’s successor, William Howard Taft.
The idea of expanding first came up in 1939, but “time and time again, it just didn’t happen,” DeFazio said.
Caves Superintendent Vicki Snitzler opened the ceremony by emphasizing the monument’s bigger size, pointing out it included the ridgetops behind her.
“Welcome to the Oregon Caves National Monument … and Preserve,” she said.
Menno Kraai, general manager of The Chateau at the Oregon Caves historic lodge and executive director of the Illinois Valley Community Development Organization, closed the ceremony after the ribbon was cut.
“In summary, we thank you for the opportunity to continue enriching the lives of local residents, and visitors from across the globe.”