© 2022 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
KSOR Header background image 1
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Nomadic Shelters Become Modern Yurts in Oregon Parks

Beginning in 1994, round, wood-framed shelters called yurts began dotting campsites in Oregon State Parks. Today there are more than 200, complete with heat and electricity.  Felt-covered yurts originated in Mongolia, but the move from nomadic shelter to Oregon campsites involves a U. S. Supreme Court justice and Oregon foresters.

In 1962 a New Hampshire high school teacher, Bill Coperthwaite, read a National Geographic article on Mongolia by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.  Intrigued, Coperthwaite had his students build a yurt roof to illustrate the mathematics of its curves, and later built a complete yurt in Grass Valley, Calif.

During the 1970’s, the Eugene-based Hoedad reforestation cooperative used yurts as shelter.  A former member, Alan Bates, founded Pacific Yurts in Cottage Grove, building modern yurts with NASA-designed insulation, modern fabric coverings and aircraft cable supports.  In 1993 Oregon State Parks employee Craig Tutor saw the Pacific Yurts’ display at the Oregon State Fair.  As Tutor said, “Something just started clicking in my brain…The whole purpose of this program wasn't for summer campers, it was for off-season tent campers."

Oregon’s yurts are often booked solid for a year.  They’ve come a long way from Mongolia.

Sources: Kemery, Becky. "Yurtstory: the history of yurts ancient and modern." Turinfo.org, Jeff Capron Inc., 2016, www.yurtinfo.org/yurtstory-the-history-of-yurts-ancient-and-modern. Accessed 24 Oct. 2016; Coperthwaite, William S. "Building a Modern Yurt." Mother Earth News Mar./Apr. 1971, www.motherearthnews.com/print?printid=%7BE5113505-3FA6-4EFA-9D65-A18B13E9719A%7D. Accessed 24 Oct. 2016; "Yurt revolution began on the Oregon coast." Oregon Statesman Journal, 10 Dec. 2014 [Salem, Ore.] .