SALEM &

In 1926, the National Park Service rejected the idea of making Silver Falls State Park a national park. It was the same story in 1935.




Almost 75 years have passed and state Rep. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, thinks it's time to raise the issue again. He is introducing a bill for the February session that would get the process started.




Silver Falls, at almost 9,000 acres, is the largest state park in Oregon. A 30-minute drive from Salem, it's also one of the most heavily used, with nearly — million visits each year &

roughly twice the number seen by Crater Lake, Oregon's only national park.




The idea was rejected last century because the Silver Creek watershed had been heavily logged. But the forests have made a comeback, and Girod thinks now is a good time to reconsider.




He sees several potential benefits to national park status, from wider exposure to bigger budgets. More tourists are always welcome in communities such as Silverton, which bills itself "the gateway to Silver Falls."




"I think that idea sells itself," said Girod, whose district spans the eastern portions of Clackamas, Marion and Linn counties.




It's unclear whether the state would welcome such a move. Chris Havel, the spokesman for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said the department hasn't studied the issue.




"We would have to sit down and study that from a lot of angles because it's a really complex issue," he said.




The department would lose about $800,000 a year in visitor fees and other income generated by the park, but would also lose the financial burden of maintaining it.




If Girod's bill is approved by the Legislature, the state would make a formal request to Congress to consider adding Silver Falls to the federal park system. Congress could then direct the National Park Service to study the matter.




"The study would look at three things: Is it suitable? Is it feasible? Is it nationally significant?" said Holly Bundock, a National Park Service spokeswoman. "All of those factors have to be yes."




But there is a quicker route. Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, the president can create national monuments with the stroke of a pen. Girod's bill includes an appeal to President Bush.




"George Bush is going to be leaving office, and historically when they leave office is when they make these designations," Girod said.




But before either Congress or President Bush can consider elevating Silver Falls to national park status, Girod's bill must pass the Oregon Legislature.




The session is set to begin Feb. 4 and end Feb. 29. Democratic leaders have made it clear they want to keep a sharp focus on the session's agenda and not take up a lot side issues. Girod concedes his bill might veer from the script, but he's met with the mayors of Salem and Stayton, has an audience with the governor scheduled for Jan. 23 and plans to lobby Oregon's congressional delegation for their help as well.




"It's a longshot," Girod said. "But it's picking up momentum."