Park for many passions


As a day-use facility, Lewis Creek Park historically hasn’t gotten the attention from the visiting public that some of the larger Linn County parks, such as River Bend, Sunnyside or Waterloo, have.

Lewis Creek, the county’s only lakeside park with a beach – albeit man-made – is one of the original facilities created when Foster Dam was built in the late 1960s.

The 40-acre park includes the pea-gravel swimming beach, moorings, an open grass area, picnic areas and a forested portion to the east of Lewis Creek that includes some tall trees, linked to the main park by a footbridge.

Open only during the summers, it has been a popular destination for families and young people looking to go swimming during hot weather. It also is a popular picnic area and in recent years has been the site of the annual free fishing derby at Foster Lake.

But that’s changed in the last couple of years with an influx of new events that have put the park, located on Foster’s north shore, to a variety of recreational uses, according to County Parks Director Brian Carroll.

“In the last couple of years, there seems to be much more of a spotlight on Lewis Creek, with people kind of discovering the park for special events, particularly water sports-based groups,” Carroll said.

Several years ago, Central Oregon Masters Swimmers, a Bend-area club, began using Lewis Creek to host open-water competitions and, three years ago, it installed a cable course, the only one in open water in the western United States, which allows exact measurement and definition of the course for national championship events.

Two of those have been held at Foster Lake and COMA will be back with another event on Saturday, June 29.

“They’ve been really successful events,” Carroll said. “Organizers are really pleased with that venue.”

He said the masters swim successes led to other people getting interested in using Lewis Creek, starting with Blair Bronson, who founded the Best in the West Triathlon Festival held the first weekend following Labor Day, the beginning of the fall “shoulder season,” for the last three years.

Also, last year Foster hosted a Wake The World Event, which gave 23 foster families a day at the lake.

Other events have included a trail run along the Foster Lake Trail, which stretches from near Foster Dam to Lewis Creek Park, and a new event last summer, an open-water water polo tournament that drew teams from Oregon and California.

Carroll said the water polo tournament is a “rather unique event.”

“Lewis Creek is one of a few places where you can probably pull it off because of the ways things are designed out there,” he said. “It’s a spot for people to actually watch games that go on.”

Though water polo isn’t necessarily considered a mainstream sport by many, its popularity is on the rise after the last Olympics, he said, and the open-water version has turned heads.

“That’s gained some national attention from USA Water Polo, this being one of the only open-water water polo spots in the nation.”

Steve Sessa of the Willamette Valley Water Polo Club, which includes players from the Salem and Albany areas, said the event got started because Carroll, whose own daughters played for Sessa, and his staff made it happen.

“We were talking one day, and he mentioned having a water polo tournament at Foster Lake and he said, ‘Have you ever thought about doing something like that?’ I’d looked at a couple of freeway ponds here in the area and I had thought about it. When Brian dropped the idea, I picked it up and ran with him.

“Brian and his crews worked to convert things over to what we needed in a short amount of time. It was astounding.”

Sixteen teams showed up last year and Sessa said he has firm commitments from around 25 right now, with others still trying to figure out the logistics.

On board are clubs from Seattle, California, Bend and Portland, and the tentatives include one from New Mexico.

“They’re from pretty much up and down the West Coast,” Sessa said. “I think we can pull a lot more teams from further away if, logistically, they can bring camping gear. How do we get tents and sleeping bags from farther than what’s considered a good driving day away? I think right now that’s one of the biggest hurdles.”

He said he has interested teams as far away as the Chicago area that would come if those details could be worked out.

Carroll said the new sports events fit with the model the parks department has followed since he took over 16 years ago.

“One of the things we’ve tried to do with county parks system is make it as self-sufficient as possible and see how we can expand its role in tourism – make the county more of a destination,” he said. “All these events are just one more piece of that.”

To minimize conflict with Lewis Creek’s regular visitors, the county has encouraged organizers to schedule their events during mid-week or during “shoulder seasons” – before or after the main summer season, “where events will not impact local residents’ use of facilities or impact the public’s use as little as possible, but still encourage people to come to this community, bring some tourism to the area.

“I think it has done that. We’re seeing people come out during that fringe time that we normally would not see.”

He said parks staff is open to similar ideas.

That is not lost on Sessa.

“It definitely all falls back on Brian being the parks and recreation director, really trying to bring new activities to that park,” he said. “He will work with us to make it happen.”

One of the results of the interest in Lewis Creek has been highlighting of needed improvements to a facility that is 50-some years old. Some improvements to docks and mooring have been made, but the “inland infrastructure” needs work, Carroll said.

“The age of the facility is certainly a concern,” he said. “Most of the infrastructure of the park is original equipment. We certainly need to upgrade the restroom facilities.”

Carroll said improvements have been made to other parks in the last year as well.

— The third of five planned cabins has been completed at River Bend and parks staff hope to construct two more before the end of the year, he said.

“Those have been a great success,” Carroll said. “The first two have been in operation more than a year. They have proved to be more popular than we thought they would. I think that, by the end of June, we will have fully recouped all of our costs to construct them.”

The approximately 70-acre park is “probably about 90 percent complete,” based on the original conceptual designs.

“There are a few things we need to do, but most of the major work has been completed,” Carroll said.

— At Clear Lake, one of the resort’s duplex cabins underwent interior remodeling during the winter and the docks were replaced last year.

“If people go up there, they will see some improvements,” he said.

— An improved water treatment and filtration system at Sunnyside Campground, which improved water quality.

— Fernview and Lost Prairie are now available for reservations. Together, the campgrounds along Highway 20, east of Sweet Home, total 21 campsites.

“We have had more demand for group camping than we have been able to meet,” Carroll said. “This provides more opportunities for group camping.”

— Camping opportunities in the Quartzville Corridor remain unchanged for the time being as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proceeds with an environmental assessment for the area.

The Corps and Linn County Parks and Recreation Department have developed a plan for the future of recreation at Green Peter Reservoir to improve resource management, public safety and boating and camping opportunities.

Among the proposed changes is the end of dispersed camping along the narrow strip of Corps land between Green Peter Reservoir and Quartzville Road.

On summer weekends, the area is packed with RVs and tent campers, despite the lack of facilities and the close proximity to a busy road.

The Corps has expressed concerns about unsafe conditions and resource damage that is caused by this activity.

Carroll said he doesn’t expect the public to see “significant changes” in recreation policy this summer, but said those are around the corner.

“Expect to see changes in 2014,” he said.

The county is working on grant requests to fund expanded camping at Whitcomb Creek and Carroll said construction may begin as soon as next year.

A copy of the master plan is available online at