It was a land donation that launched the entire Washington state parks’ system.
It took Robert Moran more than a decade to get the state on board with his plan, but on June 18, 1921, he signed over 5,424 acres of raw land to be enjoyed for generations to come. In honor of Moran State Park’s 100th birthday and the grand opening of the new interpretive center, a special celebration was held at the summit of Mt. Constitution.
Those in attendance included State Parks Commission Chair Mike Latimer, State Representatives Alex Ramel and Debra Lekanoff, Exhibit Development Coordinator Sam Wotipka, State Parks Director Peter Mayer, Friends of Moran president Sandi Talt, local Moran historian Christopher Peacock, San Juan County Council Members Jamie Stephens and Christine Minney, County Manager Mike Thomas and Becky Burns, the great-granddaughter of Robert Moran. Carolyn Cruso provided music for the festivities.
Latimer recognized that the celebration was being held on ancestral land. Moran was originally an area used as transient hunting and fishing grounds for the Lummi Tribe of the Salish Nation.
“And a special thank you to the state legislature, which approved a tremendous park-friendly budget,” Latimer said. “It’s a testament to the importance of parks.”
Lekanoff also honored the Coast Salish Peoples, asking the crowd to “pause for a moment to honor the ancestors who walked these lands.”
Originally from New York, Moran arrived in Seattle in 1875 with just a dime to his name. He became a ship engineer and worked on several of John Muir’s Alaska expeditions. His brothers later joined him in Seattle, where they launched a ship repair business that grew to become one of the largest employers in the area. In 1904, after receiving a diagnosis of only a few years to live, Moran purchased 7,000 acres on Orcas. He built his grand retirement home, which is now the Rosario Resort mansion. Free from the pressures of his career and breathing fresh island air, Moran lived until 1943.
Moran’s friendship with Muir inspired him to donate parklands to the state. But in 1910, when he first broached the subject, there wasn’t an entity in place to accept the acreage. After successfully lobbying for the formation of a parks’ board, Moran was rejected yet again after the land was deemed too big to manage. In 1920, his donation was finally accepted but the governor dragged his feet on signing the paperwork. By 1921, a new governing entity was formed — the state parks committee — which finally approved the resolution to accept the deed.
“Robert Moran’s gift launched the state parks commission,” said Mayer, who noted that it is all thanks to Moran’s “persistence and resiliency” that the state parks commission manages 120,000 acres within 125 parks today.
From 1933-1941, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked to build roads, infrastructure and trails in Moran State Park. It was the longest-running project in the program’s history. The park has 151 campsites, five freshwater lakes for swimming and non-motorized boating and more than 30 miles of hiking, bicycling, mountain biking and equestrian trails. Mount Constitution stands 2,409 feet above sea level.
The Friends of Moran group was instrumental in the construction of the new visitors’ center at Mt. Constitution. FOM was founded in 1997 and is one of the oldest nonprofit groups in the parks system. The organization, led entirely by volunteers, has given $100,000 to Moran in the past few years.
Wotipka, who put years into the project, called it the most “spectacular exhibit in the park system.”
FOM runs the Summit Gift Shop, which will soon move into the new building. Construction on the facility began in June 2020 led by Rolf Eriksen and Carla Stanley. Fallen trees from a major storm in the winter of 2019 were milled by West Sound Lumber Company and used in the new construction.
“It carries on the legacy that Moran started,” Talt said.
The Friends of Moran is reinstating its Walks and Talks program that first launched in 2019. It was put on hold in 2020 but is now back and more robust, with 42 offerings led by 17 scientists. There will also be a summer concert series with local musicians. All performances will begin at 5 p.m. at Cascade Lake. They kick off on July 31 with Brograss followed by Tow Away Zone and The Daves on Aug. 14, Irthlingz and Tom Rawson on Aug. 26 and JP and the Okay Rhythm Boys on Sept. 4. For details, visit https://www.islandssounder.com/life/celebrate-morans-100th-birthday-with-science-talks-and-concerts-all-summer-long/.