A Natural History of Breitenbush
By Tim McDevitt & Michael Donnelly
Judge John B. Waldo, Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, visited the springs in the 1880s and wrote in his diary: "I have read Thoreau’s Maine Woods through at this camp and am going over some of it a second time. He reads well far off in this boughy and aromatic forest of the Cascade Mountains where the foot of the lumberer he detested has never trod." In fact, Judge Waldo was so moved by his visits to the springs and environs that he wrote to President Grover Cleveland: "There are educational uses in mountains and the wilderness which might well justify a wise people in preserving and reserving them for such uses ... where, in communion with untrammeled nature and the free air, the narrowing tendencies of an artificial and petty existence might be perceived and corrected, and the spirit enlarged and strengthened." The result of their correspondence was the creation of the Cascade Forest Reserve, from which came all of the national forests of the Oregon Cascades.
The springs were homesteaded in 1904. President Theodore Roosevelt granted the homestead patent to one Claude Mansfield, over vociferous objections from the then incipient U.S. Forest Service.
In 1927, Merle Bruckman purchased Breitenbush. Bruckman’s father had made a fortune by inventing the first machine to mass-produce ice cream cones, allowing Merle to purchase the land and build the lodge and other buildings, thus realizing his dream of operating a wilderness health spa.
Merle operated Breitenbush for 20 years, then retired and sold the property in the mid-1950s. The property changed hands a number of times until 1972, when after two devastating floods the business was closed, strung with barbed wire and posted with armed guards. An era had come to an end.
The Detroit Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest became the largest timber cutting district in the 48 states at precisely the time Alex and friends began the Breitenbush experiment. All 10 historic trails were abandoned or roaded over. The sounds and sights of industrial forestry - chainsaws and ever-growing scars on the hillsides - impacted heavily the nascent community.
In 1984, the entire area of Devil’s Ridge was added to the Wilderness System by a vote of the U.S. House of Representatives, thanks to the tireless work of Dinah and friends. However, when the legislation reached the Senate, the area was removed from the protected list.
In 1986, the Reconstituted Man Timber Sale went forward in Mansfield Creek - the scars remain today in view of the Meadow Pools. Later that year, logging began on the North Roaring Devil Timber Sale, which saw cutting for the first time across the South Breitenbush River in the majestic forest at the base of Devil’s Ridge. The Community literally drew a line in the road and supported the blockade of the Cathedral Forest Action Group.
The Breitenbush Community and the Oregon Natural Resources Council (ONRC) filed suit. Before we won the precedent-setting Cumulative Effects lawsuit, the only bridge over the South Breitenbush was built, 1.2 miles of road was constructed, and 63 acres of ancient trees (some more than 700 years old) were clear-cut.
Accent on the Positive
With the advent of the Clinton Forest Plan in 1993, most of the area above Cleator Bend is part of a 49,000-acre Late Successional Reserve (LSR). While the LSR doesn't have the protection level of wilderness, no plans for future logging within it are on the table.
As it had been for thousands of years, and continuing now with over 30+ years of the Breitenbush Community, our Mother Earth is the constant, tirelessly pouring forth her healing waters for all species to enjoy.
© 1999 Breitenbush Hot Springs. Site updated - Winter 2014