Photography Exhibit Celebrates Oregon State Parks on Its 100th Anniversary

Landscape photographer Peter Marbach in front of his ‘Century of Wonder’ photo exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society Museum, July 21, 2022. Marbach worked on the project for more than two years and traveled to state parks throughout the state to capture the difference in scenery that Oregon has to offer.

Adele Reich / OPB

Landscape photographer Peter Marbach was running towards the Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, camera gear in tow, hoping he wouldn’t miss this shot. He had just driven six hours from Portland to Bandon on the southern Oregon coast to capture the sun as it plunged beneath the Pacific Ocean.

“I had been peeking at the weather, and it looked good on the coast,” recalls Marbach. “In winter, the light is better, it’s clearer. I took the risk that it worked. »

It was low tide, the sand reflecting the orange and blue hues of the sky when Marbach finally saw what he had been waiting for: a ray of sunlight was peeking through huge sea stacks that dotted the beach, creating a silhouette against the sunset. of the sun.

“I just thought, ‘Oh yeah!’

This photo is now part of an exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society museum in downtown Portland, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Oregon State Parks.

The project began in 2018 after historical society executive director Kerry Tymchuk said his organization was to be part of the centennial celebration in 2022.

“State parks are such an iconic part of Oregon, we have one of the strongest state park systems in the country and draw millions of people from everywhere every year,” he said. declared.

Winter sunset at Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, an image featured as part of an Oregon Historical Society exhibit on the history of Oregon State Parks.

Winter sunset at Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, an image featured as part of an Oregon Historical Society exhibit on the history of Oregon State Parks.

Photo courtesy of Peter Marbach

Tymchuk called Marbach, who had been doing landscape photography for 25 years and had done previous exhibitions for the company.

The exhibit, titled “A Century of Wonder: 100 Years of Oregon State Parks,” opened to the public earlier this year. It’s basically a road map of Oregon, with photos of state parks taken by Marbach, from the Wallowa Mountains in eastern Oregon to the crashing waves of Shore Acres State Park in Coos Bay.

Some images feature people enjoying the parks; other images are meditations on the natural beauty of the landscape, such as the bird’s eye view of the beach at Neahkahnie-Manzanita State Park.

Neahkahnie-Manzanita State Park Beach from the top of Neahkahnie Mountain.  This image is part of a collection on display at the Oregon Historical Society.

Neahkahnie-Manzanita State Park Beach from the top of Neahkahnie Mountain. This image is part of a collection on display at the Oregon Historical Society.

Photo courtesy of Peter Marbach

“The exhibition was very popular,” Tymchuk said. “People talk about their favorite state parks, whether they’ve been to that one or need to go.”

Marbach said he hopes people will not only enjoy his photographs of state parks, but also visit them.

“I started this project during COVID, and I think it kept me sane. Parks are places of healing, they keep you calm and inspire you.

Marbach looking at a wall of his photos at the 'Century of Wonder' exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society museum, July 21, 2022.

Marbach looking at a wall of his photos at the ‘Century of Wonder’ exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society museum, July 21, 2022. “I think it kept me sane,” Marbach said about of being able to visit state parks during the worst of the pandemic.

Adele Reich / OPB

This idea of ​​parks as places to enjoy natural beauty and as an escape from the bustling city life is modern. Oregon’s state parks haven’t always been seen as a destination in and of themselves.

In the 1920s, the state park system began as a service for the highway system, to help develop the state and also provide places for passing motorists to rest or have a meal with their families.

The first state park was created when farmer Sarah Helmick donated five acres of land to the newly formed highway commission, now the Sarah Helmick Recreation Site near Corvallis.

Under the direction of Park Superintendent Sam Boardman, the land area of ​​the state park system grew from 6,444 acres in 1929 to over 57,000 acres in 1950.

“Sam Boardman believed that natural areas should be altered as little as possible, that they should be kept as nature sanctuaries,” said Chris Havel, associate director of Oregon State Parks.

This philosophy has evolved over the decades as people’s ideas of what state parks should be have changed.

“There’s this kind of shared personality between the vision of a park as a natural place and a historic place that touches us deeply, but there’s also the idea that it’s a practical place that we can use without having any wilderness skills,” Havel said.

In the past, the biggest issue affecting parks was funding. When the park system was established, the state government used money from a gasoline tax to pay for park maintenance expenses. In 1980, this funding was cut, and now the parks system must balance its budget between normal maintenance and the challenges posed by climate change.

This undated photo shows US Hwy.  97 bridge at Collier State Park.

This undated photo shows US Hwy. 97 bridge at Collier State Park.

Photo courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society

Issues Facing Oregon State Parks Today

“One of my favorite photos is from Collier State Park,” Havel said. “In the photo you will see what looks like burnt trees.”

For this image, the company asked Marbach to capture an artistic depiction of the impact of wildfires on state parks. In 2020, the Two Four Two Fire burned 400 acres of Collier Memorial State Park. Months after the fire, Marbach came to Collier and saw something other than fire damage.

The fire damaged the grove of aspens at Collier Memorial State Park.  This image is featured at the Oregon Historical Society's exhibit commemorating the centennial of state parks.

The fire damaged the grove of aspens at Collier Memorial State Park. This image is featured at the Oregon Historical Society’s exhibit commemorating the centennial of state parks.

Photo courtesy of Peter Marbach

“There was a little grove of aspens where the fire had come in and just licked the bottom of the trees, it didn’t burn them. In the background there is a bit of green, so there is this juxtaposition of destruction and life that continues,” Marbach said.

Havel said he saw that same sentiment in Marbach’s photo.

“What happened to Collier showed us that this kind of trauma that happens to a park can end up being an opportunity for change and rebirth,” Havel said.

Through his photos, Marbach said he wanted people to get out and enjoy these parks and appreciate them for who they are.

“I think it’s very easy to take these things for granted, that these parks will always be there and available,” he said. It’s not only important to remember state parks as they were in the past, Havel said, but it’s also important to believe in them as a vital resource that needs to be nurtured.

“The centennial is not just a pat on the back for Oregonians for supporting a state park system over time, it’s also a chance to reflect on what parks mean to us, to s ensure they endure for another century,” Havel said.

What future for Marbach?

2026 marks the 100th anniversary of Highway 101, the highway that straddles the Oregon Coast from the northern California border to Washington.

“My idea was to send Peter down Highway 101 over the next year and take photos of the people, the places, the sights,” Tymchuk said.

Marbach said he can’t wait to start driving.

“Highway 101 is one of the most beautiful stretches in all of Oregon, so I’m looking forward to it.

“A Century of Wonder” is open at the Oregon Historical Society Museum until October 16.

About Bernard Kraft

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