According to a T-shirt sold at the Silver Falls State Park gift shop, there's a lot you can learn from a waterfall.

According to a T-shirt sold at the Silver Falls State Park gift shop, there's a lot you can learn from a waterfall.

For example, a waterfall can teach you to "Go with the flow."

Trails leading to this scenic area's 10 major falls provide many opportunities for making this largest state park — at 9,000 acres — a classroom for life lessons.

A few of the falls plunge spectacularly over the rim of Silver Creek Canyon, hitting pools below in wild collisions of water on water. You can walk behind some of them, or view them from quaint, wooden bridges spanning Silver Creek. Others drop over midstream ledges in the creek.

On my last visit to the park, I found myself ignoring a persistent drizzle while ambling to the seven falls accessible that day (three were off limits because of hazardous trail conditions). In these Cascades foothills, the firs sport thick sweaters of green moss. Wear waterproof outerwear to protect that new T-shirt in this temperate rainforest.

After my soggy but invigorating hike, I headed to the lodge to warm up and dry out. While there, I watched a short film about the people who left their mark on this place. Not all, it seems, absorbed the lesson of going with the flow when they saw these gorgeous waterfalls.

Take D.E. Geiser, for example. Back in the early 1920s, he owned the land adjacent to South Falls, now the park's signature waterfall, and charged people a dime to come and gaze at the tumbling waters. Instead of "going with the flow," Geiser's creed was: "Make some dough."

On special days when he was pushing an old car over the falls, he raised admission to a quarter.

And then there was Al Faussett, a Washington logger who practiced the side profession of daredevil. His specialty: conquering waterfalls. He had never plummeted straight down over one before, so when he gazed upon South Falls, he figured here was the chance to add to his body of work: "Put on a death-defying show."

Over the falls he went in his rubber-padded canoe, as witnessed by a large crowd one Sunday in 1928. Although he lived to brag about his 177-foot drop into the roiling pool at the foot of the falls, he spent weeks afterward in the hospital, nursing broken bones. His manager ran off with the gate receipts, and Faussett never saw a penny for all the self-inflicted pain he suffered.

Sanity finally came to Silver Falls in the person of June Drake, a professional photographer from Silverton, about 17 miles from Silver Creek Canyon. Struck by the beauty of the waterfalls, he vowed: "Let the public know."

He snapped many pictures of the cascades and showed them around, campaigning to save the area from private development.

When Samuel Boardman, Oregon parks superintendent, saw Drake's photos, he decided: "Be a hero." He added the land in and around the canyon to his growing list of state-park sites. Silver Falls State Park was established in 1933.

The more I learned about Drake, the nature lover, and Faussett, the water jumper, the more I was struck by their contrasting personalities. Faussett obviously craved attention while Drake was content to retreat behind his lens and let his pictures speak for themselves. Faussett was somewhat of a drifter while Drake was rooted in Silverton, doing business there for more than 50 years and serving in city government.

One of the falls inside the park, Drake Falls, is named after the Silverton cameraman. It seems only fitting that, at 27 feet, it is the smallest of the 10. A modest falls for a modest man.

Faussett's stunts made the front page of newspapers wherever he roamed, and he was good at attracting sponsors, including the Columbia clothing company. Big-name movie studios even filmed some of his watery jumps. He never accomplished his ultimate dream, though, of riding over Niagara Falls.

Although Faussett blew into the Silverton area, performed his feat and then hobbled away after the hospital released him, the town never forgot him.

When Silverton began holding its annual heritage festival in the 1990s, they named it Al Faussett Days. The itinerant stuntman ranked higher in the town's esteem than, say, the lifelong resident who helped create a state park next door?

Festival organizers since have had second thoughts about glorifying the stuntman. The event, held the second weekend in July, now simply is called Historic Silver Falls Days.

Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at