Reaching the Top of the Mountain

A 95-year-old BLM retiree is honored for his work to build the Steens Mountain National Back Country Byway.

story by Kathy Eaton, BLM Retiree
photo by Matt Christenson

The Oregon and Washington BLM Retirees Association in conjunction with the BLM honored 95-year-old retired District Manager Howard DeLano in Portland, Oregon on November 13, 2008.

Howard received a bronze plaque to be placed at Steens Mountain in southern Oregon for his work to have the Steens Mountain National Back Country Byway built to the delight of visitors from around the world.

Howard began working for the Grazing Service in Burns, Oregon back in 1939 - before the BLM even existed. After he was appointed District Manager of the Burns District in 1953, Howard began a quest to open an access road to reach the top of the Steens Mountain, one of the highest spots in Oregon with an elevation of almost 10,000 feet.

Before Howard began his quest, there was only an ungraded rock road used only by local stockmen, fishermen, hunters, and local land owners. Due to the treacherous nature of the old "wagon wheel road," the general public did not have access to view the deep gorges and the beauty and uniqueness of Steens Mountain.

It took years of persistence by Howard to secure the necessary funding to construct a graded road that would enable the public to drive to the top of Steens Mountain. But his efforts paid off. Soon after Howard retired from the BLM in 1972, construction on the road began under direction from Howard's replacement, Don Robins.

Retired Oregon and Washington BLM State Director William G. Leavell recently proposed that the BLM recognize Howard's contributions with a plaque to be placed near the Steens Loop Road. This proposal was advanced by the Oregon and Washington BLM Retiree's Association chaired by retired Associate State Director Chuck Wassinger who garnered support from current Oregon and Washington State Director Ed Shepard. Then Dana Shuford, former Burns District Manager, enlisted the input of the local Steens Management Advisory Council which lent their support to the proposal.

The National Public Lands Foundation heartily endorsed this effort and, on November 13, 2008, Howard, along with his wife Pearl and his many friends, was recognized with a bronze plaque commemorating his dream to create a paved road to the top of Steens Mountain.

Today close to 10,000 people from around the world visit the top of Steens each year. And every one of them travels up "Howard's Road" to reach the summit where they share Howard's vision of the immense mountain gorges and beautiful vistas.

Check out our online photo album for more photos of Steens Mountain.