History of the San Jacinto State Park

In the late 1800s, the forests on public domain seemed destined for destruction by fires and reckless timber cutting. Nothing was being done to protect the forests or to use them in a less damaging way. Some of the more public-minded citizens realized that something had to be done to curb the destruction of this great resource. Congress also recognized the situation and, in 1891, authorized the President of the United States to set aside “Forest Reserves.”

View of park
Photo by Bill Bulger, NHA 2010 Photo Contest

In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison set aside the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve for protection of the valuable watersheds of Southern California. On February 25,1893, Harrison added another area of 737,280 acres for the further protection of the watersheds. This area was named the San Bernardino Forest Reserve.

The San Jacinto Forest Reserve, later to become part of the San Bernardino National Forest, was created by President McKinley on February 22, 1897. In 1905, the administration of these areas was transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture. The name “Forest Reserves” was changed to “National Forests” and the “Forest Service” was created as an agency.

On September 30, 1925, President Calvin Coolidge created the San Bernardino National Forest by merging the original area given to the Angeles Forest in 1908, and the San Jacinto portion given to the Cleveland Forest in 1909. This was the final land shift to be made and the three Forests have remained in essentially the same status since 1925. Today we still have the San Bernardino, Cleveland, and Angeles National Forests. The San Bernardino Mountains covers 812,383 acres of which 630,971 acres are National Forest land; 181,412 acres are State and privately owned.

The idea of a California State Park System began in the 1920s, when the conservation movement in California swelled to considerable political importance. Newton B. Drury, a University of California professor, was an active and vocal member of California’s Save–the-Redwoods League. He helped write and lobby for legislation to establish a statewide parks system. Through a sympathetic Governor, C.C.C. Young, a State Park Commission was established to make a comprehensive survey of the State as a base for acquisition and development of land in order to create a balanced park system. The commission would also administer all State Parks and have full charge of any and all state funds set aside by the State for the purpose of purchasing, developing, and maintaining California State Parks. Drury campaigned vigorously for the passage of a park bond referendum designed to fund the California State Park System. In the general election of 1928, the citizens of California passed a $6 million bond issue to acquire land for the state Park System.

First snow in Long Valley
Photo by Raymond Shobe, NHA 2010 Photo Contest

During this time, the ideas of setting aside land around San Jacinto Peak surfaced. Until then, all five State Parks were in northern California but without a unified system of administration. After two years of promotion, the San Jacinto Mountain State Park Association was incorporated on September 22, 1928. The express objective of this association was to further resource preservation, as a part of the scientific, conservation, scenic and educational values of the parks. The association, along with the Riverside County Chamber of Commerce and other organizations and individuals, sponsored many “show me” trips for the press, government people, conservationists, and others who might help the cause. Several of the trips to the high country required more than one hundred horses and twenty guides, cooks, etc., to make it a success. National publicity through the press and radio resulted from efforts led by the association. The Los Angeles Times, Riverside Daily Enterprise, and the Hemet News were helpful to this end. Ed Answorth of the Times was particularly valuable as he dedicated not only his daily column but much of his personal time, talent and connections as well.

About 55,000 acres were proposed for a State Park in the San Jacinto Mountains, half was owned by the southern Pacific Land Company and half owned by the United States Forest Service. Luckily, Southern Pacific was not only sympathetic to the State Park System, they had land in the area that could be manipulated to either park use or as trading stock to be exchanged for USFS lands within the proposed boundaries. Again, Newton Drury, worked to realize a dream. He negotiated a three-way land exchange that paved the way for establishment of Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness Park. By the summer of 1929, it had been determined that the program, though complicated, could be brought about.

In summary, the State Park System acquired 12,687 acres from the Southern Pacific Land Company, part of which was acreage exchanged for Forest Service land. The Southern Pacific Land Company received $84,218 for all lands deeded to the State. Of this $42,109 were state monies from the 1928 Bond Issue, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors allocated $40,000, and $2,109 was donated by individuals. It is interesting to note that about $650 was raised through a penny drive within the Riverside County School System.

In a letter dated October 1, 1930, submitting the exchange case to the Washington office of the USFS, it was stated that: “If this transaction goes through, it is the plan of the State Park Commission to maintain their lands as a part of the combined San Jacinto Mountain State Park–Forest Service Primitive area of about 32,000 acres. The Forest Service has no intention of extending any roads or truck trails into the primitive area and we trust that the same policy will continue to govern the area under state jurisdiction.” On June 25,1937, the State Park Commission unanimously adopted the policy of the National Forest Service in preservation of the San Jacinto Primitive Area.

In 1931, under Federal Regulations, the San Jacinto Primitive Area was established. It was later changed to a Wild Area. In 1933, the Idyllwild Mountain Park Corporation gave the state 13 acres in the village of Idyllwild for park headquarters and small campground. The land was donated with the restrictions that in perpetuity it would remain public ownership and be available for public recreation. Prior to 1919, the property was the site of an old dairy; a large barn and sheds were located where the present residence and office now stand. The Idyllwild Mountain Park Corporation (still in existence) is the successor of old Idyllwild, Inc.

Riverside County acquired 7 ½ acres from Idyllwild, Inc. in 1921, for $10.00. This was the first County Park. Much, much later, in 1954, Oscar Lawler donated land to the County Parks in memory of his late wife. The lodge on the land was built in 1916 and was the Lawler family mountain home. It is supposedly a replica of Yosemite Park Lodge; the same builder constructed it.

Lawler specified that the park be used as a “mountain campground and place of recreation for organized and supervised groups of normal boys and girls of school age such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Four H Clubs and Camp Fire Girls.” Its purpose is to give children an opportunity for experience in outdoor life, with recreational and educational features and to promote patriotism and good citizenship, self reliance, practice of the Golden Rule, nature study, forest and wildlife protection, etc.

In 1955, the U.S. Forest Service granted permission to Riverside County to use Hurkey Creek Campground for the purpose of constructing and maintaining thereon a campground and playground for public use. It is not clear how the park got its name. Hurkey worked for Charles Thomas when he acquired Garner Valley. As the story goes, one day in 1875, Hurkey’s dog jumped a grizzly bear while Hurkey was cutting wood. Hurkey got involved in the struggle and died of his injuries several days later. This information was supplied to a ranger by one of the Thomas daughters and the ranger believed it reliable.

McCall County Park is unique in that it is the only equestrian park on the mountain. It was originally named Mountain Center Park at the initiation of Supervisor Fred McCall in 1956, and at the time consisted of 12 acres. In 1964, the park was renamed McCall Memorial Park in memory of Supervisor McCall. The park was enlarged by 75 acres in 1968. The land was purchased from Jack Garner with 1964 State Park Bond Act Money.

In 1969, the U. S. Forest Service contacted the County regarding a parcel of land they owned adjacent to the existing County Park. The Forest Service felt this parcel was no longer National Forest in character and was not within the general area of their management responsibilities because it was an isolated parcel between the communities of Pine Cove and Idyllwild. The Forest Service had received inquiries from developers, but wanted the County to preserve this land through acquisition instead. The County was interested and applied for a HUD grant to be matched by County funds. This grant was received. In the interim, the property (137 acres) was purchased by the Nature Conservancy with the intention that they would sell it to the County within one year for the purchase price plus some interest. The purchase was completed in 1973. This addition to the original Idyllwild parklands now features the Idyllwild County Park Visitor Center.

Today well over 800,000 acres of the San Jacinto Mountains are public lands. This is only because of the efforts of concerned citizens who realized the necessity of preservation of our environment. It is up to today’s citizens to see that these lands are protected and maintained for the future generations to come.

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