Nearly 25 years after Newberry Volcano became a national volcanic monument, one of its biggest proponents is glad how things turned out.
“It has gone exactly how I and the rest of us had hoped it would,” said Stuart “Stu” Garrett, a Bend physician. “… It is still a quiet, nice place to visit, but it is protected.”
Concern about potential geothermal development in and near the caldera of the volcano south of Bend in the late 1980s drove the creation of the 54,822-acre Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which encompasses Paulina and East lakes, as well as Lava River Cave, the Lava Cast Forest and Lava Butte.
Garrett, who wrote the 1991 book “Newberry National Volcanic Monument: An Oregon Documentary,” helped lead the efforts to designate the national monument.
Congress enacted the law establishing Newberry on Nov. 5, 1990, a year after it was introduced by former U.S. Rep. Bob Smith, R-Ore. Smith guided the bill through the House of Representatives, and former U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., did the same in the Senate.
Throughout this year and into next, the Deschutes National Forest plans to celebrate the anniversary, starting with a kickoff celebration June 19. Events range from specialized interpretive programs June 20, Garrett giving a pub talk June 30 about the making of the monument and stargazing at Lava Butte on Sept. 12.
The events will highlight the varied geology that makes Newberry different, said Scott McBride, manager of the monument for the national forest. Although it is a short drive from Bend, many locals might not have explored Newberry yet, he said.
“It’s certainly worth a visit, whether for an hour or three days,” McBride said.
The national monument centers around the massive Newberry Volcano. Unlike the towering Three Sisters and other steep-sided stratovolcanoes in the Cascades, Newberry Volcano is a shield volcano. Its squat shape hides its size, with the volcano having a volume of 120 cubic miles compared with South Sister’s 5 cubic miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The agency calls the volcano, which last erupted about 1,300 years ago, “Central Oregon’s Sleeping Giant.”
The top of the Newberry Volcano features a caldera containing the pair of lakes divided by an obsidian flow. Native Americans used the obsidian as a material for tools, and the foundation of an ancient home has been found in ash on the volcano.
“Newberry has been a special place for thousands, thousands of years,” McBride said.
The caldera has drawn comparisons to Crater Lake, which became a national park in 1902. In the 1920s, the Bend Commercial Club started a campaign to designate Newberry as a national park of its own, but the campaign did not succeed, according to Garrett’s book. While a state law in 1975 and a federal designation as a national natural landmark in 1976 provided some protections for Newberry, by the late 1980s a small group of Central Oregonians came together to try to gain more. Along with Garrett, they were: Stephen “Stosh” Thompson, a scientist; Tom Throop, a former Deschutes County commissioner; Paul Dewey, an attorney and now executive director of Central Oregon LandWatch; and Don Tryon, who represented the Sierra Club.
They wanted to see more protections because of increasing geothermal interest in Newberry Volcano. At the time, more than 40 geothermal exploratory wells had been drilled deep into the volcano.
“We didn’t want to see drilling or power plants in the caldera or really in the immediate vicinity,” Dewey said.
At the time, the Bonneville Power Administration estimated the hot rock within the volcano could produce between 1,500 and 2,000 megawatts, according to Garrett’s book. That’s more than Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lists as producing about 1,200 megawatts, enough to power about 900,000 homes.
Creating the plan for the national monument was at times an “excruciating process,” Dewey said, with at least one meeting lasting until well past midnight.
“A lot of it was drawing lines on maps,” he said.
Crafting the proposal involved a wide mix of people with a stake in Newberry’s future, from anglers to snowmobilers to geothermal companies. Garrett served as chairman for a committee with 35 other people.
“It was quite a process,” he said.
The result was a plan to cordon off the caldera and other features on Newberry Volcano from geothermal exploration and development in creating a national monument, a status typically held for lands managed by the National Park Service, said George Chesley, district ranger for what was then the Fort Rock District of the Deschutes National Forest, from 1978 to 1995. He was in the many meetings that lead to Newberry’s designation.
“It’s a neat place,” he said. “It’s a spectacular place.”
Like the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Geothermal interest continues at Newberry Volcano, with a private experiment ongoing and a federal lab a possibility on the western flank near La Pine. While glad to see geothermal exploration on Newberry Volcano kept outside the monument and away from the caldera, Dewey said, he still would like Newberry to become a national park someday. Critics of the concept say it could draw too many crowds to the area, but he said it could also bring more funding.
“We still want the monument to be treated special,” Dewey said.
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