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Pruning the Parks: Shasta Lake Recreation Area (1945-1948)


Shasta Dam and Shasta Lake. Bureau of Reclamation photo.

California's Shasta Lake Recreation Area was a National Park System property for only three years before it was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service on July 1, 1948. The Forest Service now administers the lake as a component of Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area.

California's mammoth Central Valley Project (CVP) was built on a huge scale to provide irrigation water, control flooding, prevent saltwater intrusion, generate hydropower, and provide recreation opportunities. Today the CVP's 20 major dams, 500 miles of canals, and other water storage and distribution facilities support many of California's most productive agricultural areas.

One of the most important facilities in the entire CVP system is the Shasta Dam, which was constructed on the Sacramento River near Redding by the Bureau of Reclamation during 1938-1945. Because it had to store and funnel water gathered from a huge area in the Sacramento headwaters, the poured concrete arch dam was built at a stupendous scale. It has a 543 foot-wide base, stands 602 feet high, and stretches 3,460 feet in length. In the entire country, with its thousands upon thousands of dams, only the 5,223 foot-long Grand Coulee Dam in Washington is larger.

When a dam of that size is closed, it produces a correspondingly impressive reservoir. Shasta Lake (aka Lake Shasta) put about 47 square miles of land underwater. At full pool (1,067 ft. elevation) it contains around 4.5 million acre-feet of water and has a surface area of about 30,000 acres. There are 365 miles of deeply indented shoreline with four major arms and numerous inlets and coves.

Under terms of an agreement inked with the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service acquired administrative responsibility for Shasta Lake Recreation Area effective May 22, 1945. As with several other agreements to take over the recreation management of BuRec or Corps of Engineers reservoirs (including Millerton Lake Recreation Area, Shadow Mountain Recreation Area, Flaming Gorge Recreation Area, and Lake Texoma Recreation Area), this arrangement proved short-lived. After being a National Park System property for scarcely more than three years, Shasta Lake Recreation Area was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service effective July 1, 1948.

At that time of the transfer, Shasta Lake was part of the 1.17 million-acre Shasta National Forest. Additional administrative shuffling was not long in coming. Six years later (in 1954), Shasta National Forest was consolidated with the adjacent Trinity National Forest to create the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Encompassing 2.1 million acres, the Yellowstone-sized Shasta-Trinity National Forest is by far the largest national forest in California.

The Shasta-Trinity National Forest is not just a very large federal property containing California's largest reservoir and nearly 70% of the watershed of the South Fork Trinity River. Also within the borders of the Yellowstone-sized Shasta-Trinity are one of the state's prettiest and highest mountains (Mount Shasta, elev. 14,162 feet), five federally-designated wilderness tracts, 230,000 acres of old growth timber, 6,278 miles of rivers and streams, several hundred alpine lakes, relics of the Gold Rush era, and numerous other significant natural and cultural resources.

On November 8, 1965, Congress put the National Park Service back into the picture by authorizing the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area. When the new NRA was finally established on October 21, 1972, it had three major components. The Park Service was given administrative responsibility for only one of the three units, the 42,503-acre Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (aka Whiskeytown Unit). The recreational centerpiece of the popular Whiskeytown NRA (853,812 visitors in 2009) is Whiskeytown Lake, a 3,200-acre reservoir with developed recreation facilities. This lake and other facilities and resources on the premises, including Gold Rush era structures, forested land, streams, and abundant wildlife, support a wide range of land- and water-based recreation.

The other two units of the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area, the Shasta and Trinity units of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, are both administered by the Forest Service.

Although no longer a National Park System property, Shasta Lake remains a key component of Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area. The big reservoir and adjacent lands support an impressive array of high-quality outdoor recreational facilities and opportunities, including sightseeing, wildlife watching, picnicking, camping, biking, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, swimming, scuba diving, water skiing, boating, fishing, climbing, 4WD-ing, and hunting. The ten resorts and marinas on the lake shoreline are vital components of the recreation complex.

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Having lived in Redding for quite a few years, we refer to the view in your picture as the 'Three Shastas'. Shasta Dam, Shasta Lake, & in the upper left of the photo, beautiful Mt Shasta. A great area & worth a visit.

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