Day use in Linn parks busier than ever over Fourth of July

Sweet Home area parks were packed over the Fourth of July and full over the weekend as regulars and new visitors alike spent time on East Linn County’s lakes.

“Camping, we’ve been very busy, about like normal,” Linn County Parks Director Brian Carroll said. The Fourth of July, officials didn’t know what to expect with it being mid-week. Camping wasn’t full on the Fourth, but day use was way up. Lewis Creek Park was busier than he had ever seen it.

“They’re not supposed to park along the road,” Carroll said. “They were parked a quarter of a mile up the road on either side.”

Day use swamped Sunnyside, Gedney and Lewis Creek, Carroll said. Waterloo was busy too, with all of the picnic tables full.

The surprise was Thistle Creek boat ramp, he said. It was busy, with vehicles parked all over the bank around the low-pool boat ramp.

At Thistle Creek, Sonja Neperud of Albany and her family, regular visitors to the area, were putting in Saturday at the low-pool ramp, the only access for boaters to the lake right now.

“We like it because it’s close,” Neperud said. The water is calmer than Foster, and it’s not as busy. This weekend was their second time up at Green Peter this year. The water was lower this weekend.

“It’s a little bit more challenging docking, but we’re up to a challenge,” Neperud said. She was at Foster on the Fourth and said it was busy.

“I don’t have figures right now as far as what we’re referring to Fourth of July week,” Carroll said, but for the fiscal year 2000-01 revenues were “way up.” Linn County budgeted $300,000 for the year, up $20,000 from the last year. Revenues actually hit $337,000, and that almost completely equates to increased visitation. A fee increase went into effect in April and had a small impact on revenues.

A number of factors contributed to a busy week, campgrounds being full over the weekend, Carroll said. Green Peter has been slower than usual. Some visitors would travel to Green Peter because Foster was so busy. Some came back down, finding it too tough to get to the water at Green Peter.

“I think visitation at Green Peter is down overall, but Whitcomb Creek has always been an overflow for Sunnyside,” Carroll said, and it’s been doing well.

In other areas, Dorena and Fall Creek Reservoirs are still up, Carroll said, but Detroit is low. John Neal Park, a Linn County Park in Lyons on the North Santiam, has experienced a drop in visitation this year. That park takes up overflow for Detroit.

Linn County is picking up visitors from Salem and Eugene, where Fern Ridge Reservoir is low, Carroll said. Linn County has been receiving calls from people confirming what they’ve heard about Foster being full.

Tim Mahoney and his family from Salem normally boat in the Willamette or Detroit, but this year was different. They decided to try Sweet Home.

After checking out Foster Lake Saturday, they headed up to Green Peter for a look. With Green Peter’s low water, they didn’t want to back their Mustang and its low profile down the low-pool ramp, and they headed back to Foster.

“We always usually go up to the Willamette River,” Mahoney said. “We thought because it was so low, we’d check this out. We’d always read about these lakes.”

Gesturing toward Green Peter, Mahoney said, “this is beautiful compared to Detroit. You wouldn’t see any water from here.”

Detroit looks like a river right now, Mahoney said, and visitors need to walk quite a ways to the lake.

Dan Perez had his family on Foster Lake for the same reason, other lakes were too low.

Bridge jumpers Cody LeBard, Tyler LeBard and Casey Backer, all of Scio, thought the jumps at Green Peter were more thrilling with much longer distances to the water.

Overall, in the Linn County Parks system, there have been few incidents or problems, Carroll said. With the crowds, “people need a lot of patience. Usually, our booth people will catch the brunt of it if people are upset, and I haven’t heard a lot of that.”

The Linn County Parks System is seeing more family business, Carroll said, which is an indication that the parks have a good reputation because families are the most discriminating customers.

“I’m very pleased with the way the season’s gone so far,” Carroll said.