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Carl Stoddard, first superintendent of San Juan Island National Park, dies

From left, four-time cancer survivor Carl Stoddard celebrates during the survivors
From left, four-time cancer survivor Carl Stoddard celebrates during the survivors' lap of this year's Relay for Life with his son, Craig, and grandson, Chad, July 25 at Friday Harbor High School.
— image credit: Journal file photo / James Krall

Carl Stoddard, first superintendent of San Juan Island National Park, died at home with his loving family around him on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008.

A service will be held at Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church on Saturday, Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. An obituary will follow.

Stoddard served as superintendent of the national park from 1969-74. He oversaw the first property acquisitions and relocation of original buildings to American and English camps, and was superintendent during the 100th anniversary of the peaceful settlement of the Northwest Boundary Dispute.

"The park’s first superintendent, Carl Stoddard, had the formidable task of acquiring the properties necessary to recreate the historical landscape at both park sites," National Park historian Mike Vouri said.

"He also had to establish a balance between maintaining the parklands as the playgrounds they had always been to islanders, and preserving and protecting the cultural and natural resources. He was remarkably successful and was warmly welcomed back to San Juan Island on his retirement."

The following is from the park's administrative history:

Carl Stoddard was a resource manager at the Western Regional Office (of the National Park Service) prior to his tenure at San Juan. As the park's first superintendent, Stoddard's primary tasks were outlined in the pre-construction phase of the master plan. First and foremost was the completion of lands acquisition. In addition, an office and staff needed to be established to begin basic park operations.

During the 1970s, Stoddard's staff numbered 3 to 4 employees, with 2 or 3 seasonals and approximately 12 to 15 Volunteers In Parks (VIPs). Office space had been arranged through General Services Administration (GSA) in the Carter Building on Spring Street in Friday Harbor in 1967. Later that year, a trailer arrived to serve as seasonal housing and was placed in a trailer park in Friday Harbor.

A debate ensued over whether or not the park should have an administrative office in Friday Harbor, as suggested in the master plan. In his master plan comments, Regional Director John Rutter gave several reasons why he did not think that offices needed to be in Friday Harbor on GSA-leased property.

First, he estimated that most arrivals on the island would be in cars and parking at an information station would create traffic congestion. Second, staffing levels were not going to be large enough to cover three stations. Third, he believed "any Superintendent worth his salt" would be in town developing the necessary public relations contacts.

However, planning for offices at either camp site to replace the office space in Friday Harbor would not occur until the lease for the Carter Building space was terminated in 1977. Even then, it would be temporary and last-minute planning.

The need for a maintenance facility was met when the Jameson property was acquired at English Camp. The property was an improved lot with a house and shed. The shed building was modified to serve as the park's maintenance facility.

Stoddard wrote the first management objectives for the park, which were approved in 1970. The management objectives reiterated the park's legislative objective and those commitments the NPS made during public hearings. The document provides an assessment of park resources and environments, and identifies resources relocated outside the park boundaries (possible American Camp structures and the English Camp Hospital). Stoddard's management objectives established park visitation at 25,000 a year, with half of the summer visitation arriving by boat at English Camp.

The document lists several objectives for general management, resource management, and visitor use. For general management, the park was to be managed as a small park, relying on the Seattle regional office for assistance. Management would oversee lands acquisitions and the park would provide year-round visitor services, maintain close relationships with local, state, and other federal agencies, work with local organizations and private owners to help preserve the island's historic resources, and observe the 1972 centennial of the boundary dispute. All NPS structures would be constructed in an unobtrusive style using muted colors and natural materials.

For resource objectives, the document stated in general that park resources were to be managed with the intent to preserve them for long-term stability. In addition, the park was to engage in an intensive research program of structure restoration; develop a program of restoration and stabilization at both camps to maintain the historic scene; and work with local, state, and other federal agencies in the area to accomplish a rabbit control program.

The park's visitor use objectives included interpretation of the historic events leading to the Pig War, joint military occupation, and peaceful arbitration settlement; broaden interpretation to include environmental education in coordination with local schools; provide visitor facilities and recreational developments where opportunities existed (in 1970, planning still involved providing campsites at American Camp), as long as facilities did not impact the historic scene; and provide for visitor safety and protection.

Following the development of these management objectives, a good deal of Stoddard's efforts went into fulfilling the research and restoration needs of the historic structures at English Camp, fulfilling one of the promises made during the public hearings process. In 1970, the Commissary and Barracks structures underwent restoration work and were painted. The Blockhouse was rehabilitated and painted in 1971. In 1972, staff reestablished the flagpole and worked to restore the English Camp formal garden. Don Campbell, Pacific Northwest Region (PNR) park planner and landscape architect, assisted in the garden's design.

General maintenance was completed at the English Camp cemetery, and studies into other structures were underway, including a review of the structure on the property of Harold Lawson believed to be the English Camp Hospital. Stoddard spent time in Victoria, British Columbia, researching English Camp in the regional archives. He noted that staff at Canadian repositories took great interest in the preservation of English Camp.

In 1972, NPS historian Erwin Thompson completed the Historic Resource Study for both camps, which included a social/political review of the historical events at the park. The study provides a detailed analysis and, when possible, locations of structures (existing and lost) at both camps during the military occupation. It also identifies the location of Bellevue Farm, San Juan Town, and Lyman Cutlar's potato patch.

Studies determined that the McRae house, although having undergone some additions, was an original American Camp structure. The Lawson building was also determined to be the Hospital from English Camp and was donated to the NPS by owner James Mathis in 1973.

Superintendent Stoddard established the cooperative agreement, which brought the University of Idaho archaeological field school to the park for structural research beginning in 1970. In 1971-73, interpretive wayside exhibit plans were developed for both camps. In 1973, contracts were awarded for an exhibit shelter at American Camp and a small exhibit was installed in the English Camp Barracks structure after its restoration.

Two major moves were completed in 1974, just prior to the transfer of Carl Stoddard. The Hospital building, donated the previous year, was returned to English Camp. Research of historic photographs and archaeological evidence determined the structure's proper location on the parade ground. Historic photographs proved more useful. Archaeological evidence completed by the university field school was not conclusive in locating the original structure's placement. The Warbass house, which was determined to be one of the original laundress' quarters, was moved back to American Camp from its location near Friday Harbor. Restoration work on both structures would be completed at a later date.

The year 1972 was the centennial of the peaceful arbitration of the boundary dispute, and Stoddard and his staff spent a great deal of time coordinating ceremonial planning. Robert Reynolds joined them in their efforts, a Pacific Northwest Region ranger assigned to the park from September 17 to November 11 strictly to assist with planning for the October ceremonies.

Activities included a Memorial Day service at English Camp cemetery with visiting Canadian troops; a 4th of July celebration at American Camp; activities for Centennial Week, July 23-29; and ceremonies on Centennial Day, October 21, 1972.

The Centennial Day ceremony included officials representing the United States, Canada, England, and Germany. Assistant Secretary of the Interior Richard S. Bodman was the principal speaker, and marching and ceremonial units from the United States and Canada performed. The ceremonies were well received and attended, and several local organizations were involved in the activities and services.

All development planning included one high-priority task: replacement of the county road at American Camp. Cutting alongside the Redoubt, the road not only impacted the historic scene but also contributed to incompatible use and erosion. In order to preserve the Redoubt, the park constructed a new by-pass road with the intention of exchanging the new by-pass with San Juan County for a portion of the county road. The old road would be restored to the conditions of the historic setting. Under Stoddard, planning for the by-pass road was completed and negotiations began with the county for exchange of property. In 1974, the by-pass road was constructed and opened to traffic on December 20.

However, the issue became hotly contested when neighbors and other individuals on the island discovered the planned exchange of property and road closure. Letters and a petition from neighbors and community members expressed opposition to the road exchange on the grounds that islanders should not have to give up the view along that portion of road, which was unparalleled, and that removal of the road made the Redoubt inaccessible to the handicapped and the elderly. Public outcry was so significant that the county, who until that point had favored the exchange, changed their minds and voted not to vacate the portion of road.

Shortly following the construction of the by-pass road, Superintendent Stoddard left the park for a new assignment in Alaska, and the change in management may have hurt the negotiation process. It was an unfortunate setback for park development. The by-pass road remained open and available for use in conjunction with the county road. Management decided to back off the issue until more favorable public relations conditions existed.

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