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A dream come true

CRATER LAKE — When Craig Ackerman was a second grade student in Wheeling, West Virginia, he saw a magazine article showing snow piled two stories high at Crater Lake National Park.

He'd never seen anything like it, and one day, he hoped he would.

So Crater Lake became a dream destination for Ackerman. It's a dream that came true in a big way when he became superintendent of Crater Lake National Park eight years ago.

Before moving to Oregon, Ackerman managed West Virginia state parks. Next he served as a national park ranger at the Shiloh National Military Park, a Civil War battlefield site in Tennessee. Then he became a ranger at the Natchez Trace Parkway, a historic roadway running from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi, along what used to be the western frontier.

Twenty-five years ago, Ackerman was hired at the Oregon Caves National Monument, where he first served as a manager, and later as superintendent.

But it's Crater Lake that Ackerman speaks most passionately about.

The intense blue of the lake is so surreal that local legend has it film developers once apologized to parks visitors that they must have oversaturated the blue color in their prints.

They didn't, Ackerman said. That water is so blue, and the landscape's beauty so intense it takes many a visitor's breath away.

"We call it the 'sucking air' experience. When people crest the rim for the very first time, you hear them catch their breath because it's almost surreal," Ackerman said.

"I like to tell people that it's impressive because it looks like a two-dimensional landscape painting from the romantic western era, rather than actual three dimensional scene you're looking at unfolding in front of you," he said.

The lake is 6 miles across, with snowcapped mountain peaks in the background. In the middle of the lake is the cindercone Wizard Island.

Soaring 2,000-foot cliffs, pink and gray and yellow, are juxtaposed against intense blue water and blue sky, Ackerman said.

"When you see it in the summer, and the conditions are perfect, the water looks like it's been painted inside the caldera, but you're actually looking at the real thing," Ackerman said.

Being tasked with protecting such a place is both humbling and a huge honor, he said.

"After all, it's your park, it's not mine. I'm simply managing it for you. I'm the caretaker. "The park belongs to the public. It belongs to the people of this country, which in itself is a pretty neat concept," Ackerman said.

Craig Ackerman stands for a portrait in front of the Crater Lake Visitor's Center on Friday. (Katie Alaimo/The News-Review via AP)