Silver Falls State park is Oregon's largest state park at 9,064 acres. Located twenty-six miles
from Salem, surrounded on three sides by farmland, and flanked to the east by the Cascade
Range, this temperate rainforest shrouds you with the feeling of another world.
Within the park boundaries, more than thirty miles of trails meander through Douglas fir,
hemlock, and cedar stands footed by a forest floor carpeted with ferns, mosses, and
wildflowers. Encompassing five waterfalls greater than 100 feet, the popular Trail of Ten Falls
takes visitors past six waterfalls and behind four.This park is an Oregon treasure.
Prior to becoming state park property,
Silver Falls was host to a variety of en-
deavors. Spurred by widespread logging,
a small town called Silver Falls City once
sat atop South Falls—its gradual demise
mimicking that of the timber industry.
Despite the fact that much of the land
was cleared, still, locals explored, camp-
ed, and picnicked in the extraordinary
world around the creeks and falls, while
yet others seized opportunity to make a
buck. D.E. Geiser, who owned the
spectacular 177-foot South Falls,
charged a dime admission to view the
falls and a quarter to witness stunts
which included not only pushing old cars off the falls, but once involved sending the daredevil
Al Faussett over the drop in a covered canoe. Yet another property owner ran a honky-tonk
along the park’s border, while still one more “entrepreneur” blared music that resonated
through the canyon.
Beginning on March 21, 1931, under the guidance of Parks Superintendent, Samuel H.
Boardman, the state began acquiring land in the Silver Falls area. One of the first purchases
was Geiser’s 100 acres, including South Falls: “This was the nest egg which hatched into a
completed Silver Falls State Park,” Boardman later wrote. Members of the Salem Chamber of
Commerce had become interested in the park project following years of tireless promoting by
Silverton photographer, June Drake—who is today widely held as “the spark that brought about
this great park.” Further acquisitions continued between 1931 to 1945 in the form of both
purchases and gifts, and on July 23, 1933, the park was officially dedicated.
The size of Silver Falls State Park multiplied in 1948 and 1949 when the federal government
deeded nearly 6,000 acres of land, via the National Park Service, to the state of Oregon for
recreational purposes. The land (like the Presidential retreat, Camp David) had been a
Recreational Demonstration Area. It was adopted by the National Park Service during the New
Deal era of Franklin D. Roosevelt in order to restore the lands to their original state, and to
provide recreational opportunities to families and deprived youth through the formation of
camps. Land continued to be acquired with another inclusion in 1984, when Leo Cieslak
bequeathed 160 acres and, more recently, in 2006 when the department purchased an
additional 365 acres on the north boundary of the park from the DeSantis family to make the
total park acreage grow to over 9,000 acres.
While the Great Depression devastated much of the country, the development of Silver Falls’
trails, forest restoration, and buildings came into being as a result of President Franklin
Roosevelt’s creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and Works Progress
Administration (WPA). In 1935, CCC Camp Park No. 9 opened and 200 workers, along with
WPA craftspeople and artisans, began a seven-year transformation of the park that visitors
continue to enjoy today.
Samuel Boardman, recognized as the father of Oregon State Parks, said it best: The value of
Silver Falls State Park can never be “…measured in monetary values for there is no yardstick
for computation, neither is there a way to evaluate the spiritual and recreational values.”
*Adapted in part from an article by Christine Barnes.
Civilian Conservation Corps at SFSP