A Naturalist's View of Crater Lake Lodge
By Erik Hendrickson and Steve Mark
The Crater Lake Lodge will reopen in the spring of 1995 after four years of rehabilitation work. There are just 71 guest rooms in the lodge, but all park visitors are welcome to spend some time in the building. They can relax in the Great Hall, have a meal in the dining room, examine a small exhibit room that centers on the lodge's history, or wander around the grounds to contemplate Crater Lake and its surroundings. As you might expect, there are many opportunities for observation and study.
Landscaping adjacent to the lodge is a lesser-known component of a more than $15 million rehabilitation project. A separate landscape contract has been let in order to restore lodge grounds impacted during four summers of construction. In addition to historic and aesthetic criteria, the landscape plan addresses erosion and species integrity as two other areas of emphasis.
The effects of erosion can be seen just below the caldera rim. Roots of mature trees are exposed where the soil in which they grew has been worn away. Small-scale erosion in areas disturbed during construction and in newly planted beds is being checked by an erosion control blanket. This consists of wood shavings and a nylon net that will degrade in a few years with exposure to ultraviolet light. Concerns that the net might entangle deer have been alleviated upon observations that the animals traverse the blanket without difficulty.
The genetic integrity of plants placed around the lodge became a prime concern of consulting botanists. They insisted that vegetation planted in the restored landscape be limited to the floral gene pool of Crater Lake National Park. This would insure better adaptation for survival in the harsh environment (deep snows, long winters, dry summers, high elevation) of Rim Village, but also might prevent introduction of non-native species or variants which eventually could compete with native plants. All of the plants used in this project have been propagated from seed collected in the park, or from local cuttings.
All three tree species evident around the lodge are well adapted to the deep snows that fall at Crater Lake. Mountain hemlock, Tsuga mertensiana, with its distinctive droopy leader, is very flexible. Visitors in late fall or early spring might see young hemlocks curling over as snow accumulates, or slowly springing upright as the snow melts. Subalpine fir, Abies lasiocarpa, has also evolved to bend with heavy snow and strong wind. Mature trees display a distinctive spire-like silhouette, in part to shed snow and cut wind resistance. Whitebark pines, Pinus albicaulis, can be identified by clusters of five needles and very limber branches. They are often perched right at the caldera's edge because their ecological niche permits survival in exposed areas where there is less competition from other species.
Contractors also transplanted a number of shrubs into beds around the lodge. Perhaps more than the trees, shrubs help blend the hotel with its surroundings because they can soften vertical lines imposed by building facades and provide transition between ground and structure. In utilizing a number of well adapted shrubs around the Crater Lake Lodge, this also provides a way to learn something about native plants.
Discovered only in 1896, the Crater Lake currant, Ribes erythrocarpum, is found in only a few areas outside park boundaries. This is a creeping shrub, and may form a large mat with copper-colored flowers in July and red berries in late summer. Waxy currant, Ribes cereum, by contrast, is more bushy and has smoother leaf edges. It can also be distinguished by white or pinkish flowers and yellowish red berries. Botanists found the waxy currant much easier to propagate from in-park sources than Crater Lake currant, perhaps because of its wide distribution at high elevation in dry, open places.
Pinemat manzanita, Arctostaphylos nevadensis, is a low, sprawling shrub that seldom grows more than a foot high. It has red bark on its slender stems, and evergreen, leathery leaves. This type of manzanita is also common along the Cleetwood Cove Trail leading down to the lake. It is one of several shrubs frequently browsed by deer.
Rubber rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus nauseosus, is a relatively small shrub, being six inches to two feet in height. Its yellow flowers appear late in the summer and can be seen along the Garfield Peak Trail and at places like the Wineglass near the caldera's edge.
Sierra willow, Salix sitchensis, and Bush honeysuckle, Lonicera involucrata, both have long, large leaves, but they are easy to tell apart in the late summer. The willow, which ordinarily prefers wet habitats such as stream sides, develops seeds that give the appearance of small bits of cotton. Bush honeysuckle (which is sometimes called black twinberry) produces pairs of dark purple berries which are a favorite food of the Clark's nutcracker, Nucrifraga columbiana. These berries can stain the bird's beak bright purple, something which is often seen around Rim Village where this species of honeysuckle is common.
Botanists experienced difficulty in locating Mountain maple, Acer glabrum, from which cuttings could be obtained in the park. They eventually found several of these shrubs in a moist area near the east rim drive. As a result, several mountain maples can be seen near the southwest corner of the kitchen.
Mountain ash, Sorbus sitchensis, is fairly common around the lodge. Shrubs planted in the 1930s are about five feet tall, and in need of pruning. The leaves of mountain ash are composed of seven to eleven leaflets end have a shiny green color. This shrub produces red berries in the fall that are eaten by migrating cedar waxwings, Bombycilla cedrorum.
Although they are the smallest component of the landscape project, perennial wildflowers are, at times, its most colorful. Like the shrubs, these herbs provide an understory for trees and complement the grass-like native sedges. From midsummer until late fall, a number of perennial wildflowers transplanted into beds around the lodge may be seen.
As its name implies, the pearl-everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea, has a long-lived flower. Its papery-white petals appear in July and last until snowfall. Growing from one to two feet tall, it is commonly seen along park roads where runoff creates moist conditions.
Visitors from the Rocky Mountains who are familiar with the pastel to deep blue of columbines in that region may be surprised to find the red and yellow Sitka columbine, Aquilegia formosa, around the lodge. This species of columbine is the only one in the park, but is common to forests along the Pacific slope. It is frequently seen during July and August in the Cascade Crest Wildflower Garden near Park Headquarters.
Cascade aster, Aster ledophyllus var. covillei, has purple flowers with approximately eight radiating petals. This is the most common of the four asters in the park and was easily propagated from seed for transplanting at the lodge. It is often seen from July to September around the rim, usually in dry places.
Sulfur eriogonum, Erigonum umbellatum, is found in dry areas throughout the park and is sometimes known as wild buckwheat. This plant has small yellow flowers atop a leafless four to twelve inch stem. Its paddle-shaped, silver green leaves appear at the base. Another member of this genus, Eriogonum pyrolaefolium var. coryphaeum, is somewhat similar in appearance but has white flowers. E. pyrolaefolium is usually known as Dirty socks because of its objectionable odor.
Cliff penstamon, Penstamon rupicola, is an attractive woody plant with purplish pink flowers that grows in rock crevices. Often found on ledges along the Garfield Peak Trail, cliff penstamon has been planted in the rocks which help stabilize the rootball of a mountain hemlock transplanted at the east end of the lodge.
As intended, the trees, shrubs, and flowers around Crater Lake Lodge combine to help blend the building with its surroundings. Although they represent only a small part of the park's flora, these species are also useful starting points in demonstrating how organisms adapt to exposed places at higher elevations. If nothing else, the plants adjacent to Crater Lake Lodge demonstrate that life can persist in an environment where natural succession is slow or even absent for long periods after disturbances occur.
Erik Hendrickson is a structural engineer with the National
Park Service in Denver, Colorado. He helped direct the rehabilitation
of Crater Lake Lodge.
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