Linn’s parks getting plenty of use as the ‘only game in town’

Scott Swanson

A lot has happened this year – even when it appeared not much was happening – in Linn County’s parks.

And for the last month things have really been exploding as the crowds pack the parks, Parks Director Brian Carroll said.

The Fourth of July weekend was “very busy,” he said. “We had a lot of things going on. Every park was basically full and there were a lot of people out on the lake.”

It’s been busy all summer, he said.

“We were one of the first counties to reopen camping in the state. Because a lot of other facilities have remained closed, we are extremely busy.”

He said Memorial Day weekend was “probably the busiest” the county has ever had.

“We’re asking people to have patience with us, he said. “Many of our facilities are already full. If people want camping, they are probably going to have to look at midweek dates.

“I think right now, outdoor recreation is the only game in town.”

Like the rest of the state, most of the county’s parks and campgrounds were shut down until Phase 1 of the coronavirus recovery opened the door for limited operations.

“We started reopening campgrounds the week prior to Memorial Day weekend,” Carroll said. “We never did close the day use parks and boat ramps. We did keep the restrooms closed for a little while.”

Most of those have been reopened after Parks Recreation Supervisor Lonnie Wunder “went on a tear to get hand sanitizer units installed,” Carroll noted.

With Phase 2 under way, group campsites were being reopened prior to the Fourth of July, with a limit of 100 occupants.

“We can go up to 100 for day use, but most of our sites don’t handle 100,” Carroll said. “With 100 they are requiring that there is somebody monitoring for social distancing, so what we are going to be asking is that anyone who reserves a group area has to provide a monitor for social distancing and, for overnight camping, monitoring for the cleanliness of the facility. It’s a mandate. We have to do it.”

Shower facilities remained closed prior to July 4 because the county couldn’t provide the staffing necessary to ensure that showers are cleaned after every use.

Another impact of the coronavirus is that approximately 10 percent of campsites remain closed, particularly at Sunnyside and Waterloo, because they are too close together, per social distancing regulations.

“A lot of folks are very frustrated with that, but our goal was to get campgrounds open,” Carroll said. “Those are restrictions we have to live under.”

He said things will change as the summer progresses.

“Getting 90 percent of the campgrounds open is a pretty good feat. We worked very hard with the governor’s office in May. Originally, they said camping wouldn’t reopen until Phase 3, and we fought to have that changed. We basically argued that it’s easy to social distance in camping.

“We wouldn’t have closed, period, if we hadn’t been told we had to.”

COVID-19’s other impacts include:

– Restrictions on boat camping at Green Peter.

“A lot of people think this is on us,” Carroll said, adding that the ban was a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the lake.

“We do not have jurisdiction on that,” he said, adding that campers can stay on shore, just not on the water.

The county is allowing those campers to use the parking lot at Whitcomb Creek at $7 per night, he said.

“They can stay on their boat on the reservoir. They just can’t camp on the shoreline.”

The county is working with the Corps to develop new camping sites along Green Peter and is working to reopen existing sites, he said.

“We will charge a fee when those are reopened,” Carroll said.

He said that, over the next year, the county will be actively pursuing grant funding to start making even more improvements at Green Peter, including boat camping as well as improvements to group areas at Quartzville and Moose creeks.

– Group sites on hold.

The large group area at Whitcomb Creek and the Longbow Organization Camp are both closed, though Carroll said the county is working with the U.S. Forest Service regarding the latter which typically “is full almost every day of the summer.”

“Probably the biggest struggle is that the Adirondack lean-tos that have bunks,” he said. “Sanitizing them is almost impossible for us.”

– Playground safety.

As with restrooms, playgrounds are a challenge, Carroll said.

“We’re doing our best,” he said. “If you are going to use the facilities, I am not going to try to claim that they are sanitized. When you are done using them, wash your hands and sanitize your children.

“I think the term the state parks department is using is very appropos: ‘The facility is only as clean as the last person using it.’ We can clean, but if the next person walking in the door has the virus, the facility is no longer clean.”

Other Improvements

“We’ve had a remarkable year in terms of projects either completed or that we are actively working on,” Carroll said. “Staff was very busy this year. They did a lot of work, accomplished a lot of projects.”

Those include:

– A new water system and a playground at Waterloo Park, that is under construction.

The new water distribution system and a building to house it have been completed.

“That should be a great improvement for the public, because the past few years we’ve had a lot of problems with the water going down,” Carroll said.

Completion of the playground, which is financed by the county’s Transient Lodging Tax, has been slowed by the COVID impacts, he said. “We were hoping to have it complete by now, but once we started opening the parks, that became our focus.”

– Brand new yurts at River Bend and Clear Lake Resort.

Two 20-foot yurts have been added at River Bend, where a 16-footer was constructed last year.

“It proved very popular,” Carroll said.

A 16-foot yurt has been built at Clear Lake, but it is being used to house resort staff due to COVID restrictions that don’t allow staff to be housed together in cabins, as they usually are.

– A brand new wave attenuation boom for the Edgewater Marina will be installed, Carroll hopes, sometime this summer. It is also financed by the Transient Lodging Tax.

– Five vault restrooms installed at Whitcomb County Park, financed by an Oregon Parks and Recreation grant. Also, two new yurts are under construction at the park, targeted to be open later this summer. One got a “dry run” during the Fourth of July weekend, Carroll said.

– A complete redesign of Lewis Creek Park on Foster Reservoir is under way.

The park is 50 years old, and almost all of the infrastructure is original, Carroll said.

“Everything on the land side is original equipment. We’re looking at a complete rennovation.”

Consequently, the county is planning to reach out to the public for ideas and input.

“What are we going to change? How are we going to redesign it?”

A planning firm is working on the project, a process that is expected to run through next March, when a plan will be presented to the public. Carroll said it’s been difficult to hold meetings, given the coronavirus threat, but some will likely be held, which will be announced. Anyone interested in commenting is asked to email the Parks Department at [email protected].