County has big plans for Green Peter, parks chief tells chamber group

Scott Swanson

There’s lots happening in Linn County Parks as the camping season rapidly approaches, county Parks Director Brian Carroll told a group of Chamber of Commerce members and guests Tuesday, March 9, at a chamber’s first live Coffee With Colleagues event in more than a year, held at the Radiator Supply House headquaters.

Some big changes are planned for the area around Green Peter lake, in particular, he said. But plans are also in the works to improve the safety of the swim area at Lewis Creek Park, as well as upgrade the park as a whole.

“I’m hopeful that in the next five years we’ll see a lot of changes up there, particularly at Green Peter,” Carroll said. “A lot of people see Green Peter as kind of that diamond in the rough and there’s a lot of area for opportunity.”

He said the county is focused on giving people a reason to visit the area and to encourage them to stop here.

“Hopefully, that’s a positive,” Carroll said. “If we can do things to get people to stay in Sweet Home and spend some of their hard-earned money in Sweet Home, that’s part of our goal: to be a partner in the community.

Lewis Creek Park Revitalization

Carroll said the design firm Cameron and McCarthy, of Eugene, is working on a master plan for Lewis Creek, which is 50 years old.

“Not much has been done with it, other than a few new docks here and there,” he said. “Most of the infrastructure in the park is 50 years old, and it’s just ready to be redone.”

He said surveys and other data collection should be completed by the end of the spring. Those will include discussions with focus groups and an online survey that will allow the public to comment on what they would like to see in the park.

Once some preliminary drafts are completed, the plans will be presented to the public for feedback, he said, noting that he’s willing to come back to the chamber to present the proposals.

Lewis Creek Park Safety

Following the tragic accidental death of a 6-year-old boy and major injuries to a 6-year-old girl, who were struck by a runaway personal watercraft in the Lewis Creek swimming area last July, the county has settled on a barrier system to surround the swim area, Carroll said.

The barrier being considered is used as a security system for dams, to thwart potential terrorist attacks.

“It’s supposed to be able to stop a boat that’s doing 60 mph in less than five seconds,” Carroll said.

He said county commissioners, who would approve the purchase, are on board with the plan.

“We’re hoping that, as long as we can get all the materials in, we’ll have that in place by summer,” he said. “We’re hoping to maybe get it there by Memorial Day weekend.”

The security system will line the existing swim area footprint, and boats will no longer be able to pull up alongside the swim area, particularly on the west end, he said.

“We’re hoping at that point, what we’ve put together is enough that it should be much safer than it is now,” Carroll said, adding that the Maynard family, whose son was killed in the accident, concurs that this is the best solution.

Green Peter Lake

“We have a lot of irons in the fire, in particular, up at Green Peter,” Carroll said.

He said the county has sent designs for improvements to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for which the county manages camping and recreation at Green Peter.

Some of those improvements will be to the existing facilities the county operates – Whitcomb Creek County Park in particular.

The county has already more than doubled the size of Whitcomb Creek’s campground and it will need to drill a new well to meet campers’ needs, Carroll said.

“Once we get that done, we’d like to put in some shower/restroom buildings that will kind of up the service level up there, which, I think, folks are looking for.”

He noted that his department does not receive county General Fund money – it is essentially self-sufficient.

“So I’m always looking at anything that we’re proposing to do as kind of a strategic business investment and that we have to receive a return on that investment,” he said.

Some facilities, such as the boat ramps, do not generate income for the county, so they must be supplemented by revenue from those that do.

Thus, at Whitcomb Creek and on the south side of Green Peter, Carroll said, the county is planning to install yurts and, eventually, cabins, which will raise the bar for potential campers, particular.

One of the biggest challenges right now is the lack of parking, which he acknowledged, is an ongoing issue, particularly for boating campers.

He said the county is planning to convert the old group camp site at Whitcomb Creek into a parking area to meet that need.

Another goal, he said, is to “build facilities on the reservoir that can continue to be used no matter what the water levels.”

Quartzville Arm Improvements

Carroll noted that boat campers have long used the south side and the arms of the lake, but the Corps of Engineers and adjoining forest landowners have requested increased control of camping in those areas.

The county has proposed some improvements that the Corps has expressed enthusiasm for, and Carroll said preliminary use of some areas could begin this summer.

They include what is commonly known as the Trout Creek Camp on the Quartzville arm of the lake, which the county is calling Quartzville Group Camp because, Carroll said, “there’s another Trout Creek on Highway 20” (which is a U.S. Forest Service campground managed by the county).

That area has been developed into an official group use area and the county has plans to do the same at Moose Creek.

“For overnight, we’re planning on making improvements to that, which is also something we would love to do in the next year,” Carroll said. “As soon as the Corps of Engineers gives us the green light, we will start construction – unless it’s the middle of summer, because we don’t want to shut down use of the Moose Creek area.

“Basically, the big kind of parking area across from the Rocky Top Ridge, we’re proposing to turn that into a group use area that was originally proposed in 2011 as a day use area, but it receives almost no use.

“So what we’re proposing is to try to turn it into another area for people to be able to camp overnight.”

He said if the Corps gives the OK, the county may let people use the area as a group camp this summer before improvements go in “other than bringing in some amenities – some tables and grills and whatnot.”

He said the eventual plan is to add a shelter and develop it to increase its attraction for campers.

“Our experience with group areas is people are going because they want to spend time together. They don’t really care too much about the configuration. In fact, the more freedom you give to allow them to decide how they want to set up, the more they seem to like it.”

Southside Green Peter Improvements

Other spots being considered for camping sites includes Rambaugh Creek, directly across the lake to the south from Whitcomb Creek Campground, which has a “great little saddle” on the peninsula where Carroll would like to locate a more developed campground, “not as elaborate as a Clear Lake-style development, but we’re looking to put in yurts or cabins in there. We’re figuring that is a rather unique experience. You can boat over.”

He said the department has been working with John Stewart, the landscape architect who designed River Bend County Park, on the Rambaugh Creek project.

“Rambaugh Creek is one of the places that I’d love to see them start developing within the next two or three years,” Carroll said.

He noted that the project would likely move “pretty quickly” because, unlike Whitcomb Creek, extensive roadwork would not be necessary.

“We’ve gotten our hands dirty with yurt building in recent years and in one of our other facilities, they’ve proven very popular,” he said. “People like them.”

Another spot the county is looking at developing is the Two Mile area, also on the south side of the lake.

Carroll gestured toward a map containing a flurry of green dots along the south shoreline, indicating planned campsites.

“There’s a lot of boating camping that already goes on over there,” he said, adding that those sites will be more “spread out” while Rambaugh will be “more clustered.”

Parking on the north side of the lake will be key to making it all happen, he said. Also key is support from the Corps.

“I’d love to see us moving on this some time in the next two or three years. The Corps of Engineers, they have been good to work with. And they are actually excited about this, moving ahead with it. So having that kind of support from them, as you can imagine, is pretty big.”

Quartzville Corridor

The county has been working for the past couple of years under contract with the U.S. Forest Service to maintain the Upper Quartzville area, Carroll said.

While County Parks employees aren’t necessarily providing security, “they’re eyes on the ground,” he said. “And we’re up there cleaning.”

He said Linn County Sheriff’s deputies, who patrol the area daily, say there have been positive changes from that arrangement.

Carroll acknowledged that he was “a little nervous” about taking on the Quartzville area, but “it has actually been a very positive experience.”

“People are just glad to see us there and have somebody there, eyes on the ground and somebody that’s helping to clean things up. And so with a lot of the health and human waste and other issues, sanitary issues, we think we’ve made a pretty substantial impact on that.”

Highway 20 U.S.F.S. Campgrounds

Carroll said the Forest Service wants to renew its contract with Linn County Parks to manage the six campgrounds along Highway 20 east of Cascadia, and the county is interested, though he said he would like a longer-term contract than the five-and-five 10-year agreement currently in effect.

“It’s hard for us to do any substantial investment in those facilities up there if we don’t know for sure how long we’re going to have them,” he said.

He said he would like to improve the facilities in the U.S.F.S. campgrounds to standards more comparable to the existing Linn County Parks campgrounds, “not more rustic.”

He said a longer-term contract in the range of 25 to 30 years would make that possible.

There’s also the possibility that the county could bid to extend its range further east, “which would be helpful for us, particularly in the Clear Lake area, since we’re already operating Clear Lake Resort.”

Cascadia State Park

The county is operating the park under an agreement with Oregon State Parks Department, but Carroll said he’s hoping to get the deed to the park from the state this summer so that the county will own the facility.

“For us, this is a big business deal,” he said, adding that the commissioners would have to sign off on it.

“There’s potential we could actually be in ownership of Cascadia State Park later in the year. So once that happens, we will certainly look at how we’re going to proceed with development or redevelopment there.”

He said he does not foresee “drastic changes there, but certainly, there’s the potential that you could see us do a few more things.”

“Because, like I said, we do look at it from the recreation perspective as well as the business perspective.”