Executive Summary

The Board of Directors and staff of the Oregon Trails Coordinating Council present the Oregon Historic Trails Report, the first step in the development of a statewide Oregon Historic Trails Program. The Oregon Historic Trails Report is a general guide and planning document that will help future efforts to develop historic trail resources in Oregon.

The objective of the Oregon Historic Trails Program is to establish Oregon as the nation's leader in developing historic trails for their educational, recreational, and economic values. The Oregon Historic Trails Program, when fully implemented, will help preserve and leverage existing heritage resources while promoting rural economic development and growth through heritage tourism.

The opportunity to realize these benefits will depend on the entities that have the authority to act and collaborate on the program's behalf; land management agencies, government commissions, heritage organizations, and tourism associations. The Council recommends that these entities move forward with the Oregon Historic Trails Program.

Oregon's historic trails represent the transformation of the American West and are essential to understanding Oregon's history. The sixteen trails described in this report combine to tell a story, beginning before whites arrived and continuing through the Nez Perce War of 1877. Together they present an interwoven account of native peoples, explorers, and settlers brought into contact by their movements through a shared landscape. The outcomes of their travels and activities shaped the place we live today. They shaped Oregon.

The Council challenges organizations and communities along Oregon's historic trails to adopt these recommendations, preserving and developing resources as appropriate, and continuing the work initiated by this report.

Jim Renner, Executive Director Oregon Trails Coordinating Council

Project history

The Oregon Trail Advisory Council was formed in 1984 by executive order of Governor Victor Atiyeh. The Advisory Council was responsible for evaluating the condition of the Oregon Trail and reporting on its condition to the Governor. The Advisory Council's 1988 Our Oregon Trail: A Report to the Governor, provided a detailed analysis of Oregon Trail remnants in the state; political and private concerns surrounding the Oregon Trail; and the Trail's preservation and development. The Oregon Trail Advisory Council made a series of recommendations for the Oregon Trail that served as a mandate for the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council.

In December 1990, Governor Barbara Roberts, responding to the Oregon Trail Advisory Council's report, supported the founding of the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council as an independent non-profit corporation. Governor Roberts called for the Council to plan activities for the Sesquicentennial celebration and to coordinate the development of four interpretive centers planned for Baker City, on the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton, in The Dalles, and in Oregon City. The Council's mission was to develop the Oregon Trail as a major historical attraction and tourism opportunity that would result in positive economic and cultural impacts for the State. The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center on Flagstaff Hill near Baker City opened to record attendance in May 1992.

The Council anticipated that it would dissolve at the end of the Sesquicentennial commemoration. The year-long series of events and activities heightened awareness of and interest in Oregon's heritage resources. The development of capital projects complemented by marketing and educational outreach activities provided economic and cultural benefits to the communities along the route of the Oregon Trail. The success of the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council's programs and the continued support of the State of Oregon encouraged the Council's board of directors to consider recognition of Oregon's other historic trails. The Council postponed its dissolution until at least 1995.

The 1993 Oregon Legislature provided additional funding support for the completion of three Oregon Trail interpretive centers at Oregon City, The Dalles, and the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The Legislature allocated $2,000,000 in Oregon Lottery funding to be administered through the Council's matching grant program. Based on a formula of need and the amount of federal funding coming to each project, $500,000 was distributed to the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City; $500,000 was distributed to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles; and $1,000,000 was distributed to the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

During the 1993 Legislative session, the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council received a new and broader mandate: to work toward the interpretive development of Oregon's other national historic trails (the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Applegate Trail, and the Nez Perce Trail), in addition to the Oregon Trail. This mandate came with the passage of Senate Bill 98 authorizing the creation and sale of an Oregon Trail commemorative license plate through the end of December, 1995. For every Oregon Trail license plate sold, a $2.50 surcharge was "transferred to the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council for the purpose of developing interpretive facilities along national historic trails in Oregon."

The Council responded to this mandate by initiating a matching grant program available to qualified organizations developing projects such as interpretive waysides, staffed interpretive centers, and interpretive trails. License plate sales through December 1995 provided $1,000,000 for interpretive facility projects. These funds were distributed through the Council's matching grant program with $250,000 going to each of the four national historic trails. In 1995, the Oregon Legislature voted to extend the Oregon Trail commemorative license plate program through December 1999, providing a four year extension for the Council's work. The Assembly also passed House Joint Memorial 6 proclaiming 1995 as the Year of the Meek Cutoff Trail to honor the sesquicentennial of its first crossing.

The 1995 bill which had the greatest impact on the Council was House Bill 2966, the Oregon Historic Trails Bill, which recognized sixteen historic trails in Oregon and provided an opportunity for the Council and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to work together on the development of a statewide historic trails program.


HOUSE BILL 2966 relating to historic trails

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Oregon:

SECTION 1.  Oregon recognizes the value and significance of its historic trails, including:

  1. The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail;
  2. The Oregon National Historic Trail;
  3. The Applegate National Historic Trail;
  4. The Nez Perce National Historic Trail;
  5. Alternate routes of the Oregon Trail including:
    (a) The Whitman Mission Route;
    (b) The Upper Columbia River Route;
    (c) The Meek Cutoff;
    (d) The Free Emigrant Road; and
    (e) The Cutoff to the Barlow Road; and
  6. Major historic trails of Oregon including:
    (a) The Klamath Trail;
    (b) The Jedediah Smith Route;
    (c) The Nathaniel Wyeth Route;
    (d) The Benjamin Bonneville Route;
    (e) The Ewing Young Route;
    (f) The John Fremont Route; and
    (g) The Santiam Wagon Road.

SECTION 2. In preparation for the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition, the State Parks and Recreation Department may:

  • Work with property owners to mark the historic trails of Oregon; and
  • Cooperate with the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council to develop a statewide program to research, recognize and promote Oregon's historic trails as heritage tourism resources that will have a positive economic and cultural impact on the state.

Project history (continued)

With the four-year extension of the Oregon Trail license plate program and the passage of the Oregon Historic Trails Bill, the Council elected to continue operating beyond 1995 and to remain an independent organization maintaining direct oversight of its funds. The Council's mission broadened to include the sixteen trails named in the Oregon Historic Trails Bill and the Council also adopted a d.b.a. name-the Oregon Trails Coordinating Council-to reflect its interest in historic trails statewide.

The Council entered into a cooperative agreement with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to facilitate development of the statewide historic trails program described in the Oregon Historic Trails Bill. The agreement enabled the Council to work closely with State Parks by transferring its operations to the Parks headquarters office in Salem. In exchange for office space, the Council agreed to develop the statewide historic trails program. After moving its operations to Salem in March, 1996, the Council began a four-year work plan to create the Oregon Historic Trails Program. The work plan consisted of five phases:

  1. conduct research and resource evaluations;
  2. identify potential partnerships and development alliances;
  3. develop individual trail plans;
  4. develop sources of program funding; and
  5. oversee program implementation.

Late in the 1997 Oregon Legislative session, a bill was passed which included a provision that terminated the manufacture of specialty license plates and which specifically repealed the 1993 and 1995 acts that created the Oregon Trail commemorative license plate program. The Council's source of historic trail funding was cut short. Fortunately, remaining inventories of Oregon Trail license plates could still be sold to provide final revenues to the Council's matching grant program. Perhaps the greatest impact on the Council was that the timetable for considering the organization's future (expected to coincide with the end of the license plate program in December 1999), was now moved up to 1997. Loss of authority and program funding support from the State of Oregon, the Council decided to conserve its remaining assets and place the remaining funds in an endowed fund.

The work plan of the Oregon Historic Trails Program was half completed. Research and resource assessments were developed so that individual trail plans could be proposed. The outline of a program "to research, recognize and promote Oregon's historic trails as heritage tourism resources," as called for in the Oregon Historic Trails Bill, had been prepared. The Council moved ahead with the creation of this document, the Oregon Historic Trails Report, to provide a planning document to assist future efforts to develop historic trail resources in Oregon. With this report in place, the Council moves toward dissolution.

The Council's legacy is a challenge to Oregonians to carry on the work outlined in the Oregon Historic Trails Report and an endowment, the Oregon Historic Trails Fund, under the Oregon Community Foundation to help fund their efforts.

General recommendations

The Oregon Trails Coordinating Council recommends that Oregonians move forward with the Oregon Historic Trails Program. The Oregon Historic Trails Program can produce an array of benefits for Oregon's economy and its citizens. The opportunity to realize these benefits will depend on the entities that have the authority to act and are willing to collaborate on the program's behalf: land management agencies, government commissions, heritage organizations, and tourism associations. Fully implemented, a statewide historic trails program will provide a number of benefits, including:

  • a system of historic trails developed for their educational, recreational, and economic values;
  • a network of quality cultural heritage tourism projects that are historically accurate and consistent in design;
  • a foundation for a consistent cultural heritage tourism marketing package uniting all of Oregon and encouraging exploration along trail corridors;
  • increased economic opportunity and economic diversity for rural Oregon communities; and 0 a statewide historic trails system in place for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.

In 1988, the Oregon Trail Advisory Council recognized the 1993 Oregon Trail Sesquicentennial as the impetus to preserve and develop the Oregon Trail for economic and cultural benefit to the state. The Bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition in 2003-2006 continues the momentum and expands the benefits. As the nation's focus turns to Oregon and the terminus of the Lewis and Clark Trail, there is a remarkable opportunity to shape the commemoration of a single national historic trail into a statewide celebration. All regions of the state will benefit by the implementation and promotion of the statewide Oregon Historic Trails Program, inviting Oregonians and visitors alike to explore all of Oregon's historic routes.

Beyond the one-time opportunity offered by the Bicentennial, a statewide historic trails program merits the attention and commitment of Oregonians. Our trails are our history and our care for the trails, and other heritage resources, will preserve Oregon for the future. We have both an opportunity and an obligation to preserve and interpret the state's historic sites and stories for present and future generations. The Oregon Historic Trails Program provides us with the framework to link people and places, to unite the state in a common effort, and to encourage exploration of Oregon's special places.

OREGON TRAIL COORDINATING COUNCIL LEGACY RESOLUTION

Whereas, the Oregon Trail Advisory Council was established by Executive Order in 1984 and duly reported to the Governor and Oregon Legislature its recommendations for the preservation and development ofthe Oregon Trail through its report "Our Oregon Trail" in 1988; and

Whereas, the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council was organized in 1990 by the Oregon Trail Advisory Council at the request of the Governor and designated by the Oregon Legislature in 1991 to prepare the State's program to celebrate and commemorate the 1993 Sesquicentennial of the Oregon Trail; and

Whereas, the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council coordinated an interpretive wayside program developing  47 Oregon Trail interpretive sites from the Idaho border to Oregon City and implemented a statewide heritage program for the Oregon Trail Sesquicentennial and printed the results of its programs in its "Sesquicentennial Report" in 1994; and

Whereas, the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council was also entrusted by the Oregon Legislature in 1991 to oversee the investment of Oregon Lottery Funds into the development of Oregon Trail interpretive centers located at Baker City, the Umatilla Indian Reservation, The Dalles, and Oregon City; and

Whereas, the Oregon Legislature in 1993 authorized the sale of the Oregon Trail License Plate with voluntary fees to be transferred to the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council for the development of interpretive facilities along Oregon's national historic trails; and

Whereas, the Oregon Legislature in 1995 extended the authority and purpose of the Oregon Trail License Plate and also passed House Bill 2966 recognizing the value and significance of Oregon's historic trails and permitted the development of a statewide historic trails program; and

Whereas, the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council issued its recommendations for the development of a statewide Oregon Historic Trails Program in its "Oregon Historic Trails Report" in 1998; and

Whereas, the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council has elected to dissolve its corporation and recommends the re-activation of the Oregon Trail Advisory Council to oversee and advocate on behalf of Oregon's historic trails;

Now, therefore, the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council elects to transfer its cash assets to the Oregon Community Foundation to establish the Oregon Historic Trails Fund for the perpetual benefit of Oregon's historic trails and transfers its permanent collections to the Oregon State Archives to establish a lasting record of the Council's activities on behalf of the State of Oregon.

Signed this 20th day of April, 1998 Steve Meek, President of the Board of Directors