Campgrounds, day use areas reopening in eastern Oregon

A tent stands next to Lake Owyhee at the Indian Creek Campground on June 9. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)

A number of previously closed campgrounds and day use areas , including at Owyhee Lake, in eastern Oregon recently reopened to the public, and others will do so in the coming days.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department will open campgrounds only when public health guidelines for the county established by the Oregon Health Authority are fulfilled, the “local community agrees” and the “park has enough staff, supplies and equipment to safely open and operate at a basic level,” Lisa Sumption, department director, said in a news release.

State campgrounds at Minam north of La Grande, Hilgard Junction near La Grande, Catherine Creek near Union and Clyde Holliday near John Day opened on May 29.

Lake Owyhee State Park reopened on Friday, June 5, and Wallowa Lake southeast of Enterprise, Farewell Bend southeast of Huntington and Bates near Prairie City were scheduled to open Tuesday, June 9.

Reservations can now be made for Wallowa Lake and Farewell Bend through the state parks’ online system, which is taking reservations from one to two weeks in advance, as opposed to the previous timeframe of nine months, said Chris Havel, state parks spokesman. Lake Owyhee for now is first come, first served.

Cabins and yurts are currently unavailable, he said.

Red Bridge and Emigrant Springs will remain closed indefinitely, Havel said, primarily due to a lack of staffing and funds. For the campgrounds that will be open, Havel said resources will be limited and the department’s staff is essentially a “skeleton crew.”

While the parks agency normally hires about 415 park staff seasonally, it only hired 77 by March, which will be “working across the entire state from the coast, to the Willamette Valley, central Oregon and eastern Oregon,” Havel said.

Bureau of Land Management campgrounds in Malheur County were scheduled to open Tuesday, June 9, said Larisa Bogardus, public affairs officer for the BLM.

The Lower Owyhee Watchable Wildlife Site, Leslie Gulch Boat Launch at Owyhee Lake and the Castle Rock site reopened access to day use activities and boating on May 19, Bogardus said.

“Restroom facilities at these sites are regularly maintained but are not cleaned to COVID-19 guidelines established by the Oregon Health Authority,” she said.

Otherwise, campgrounds, hot springs and all other BLM-managed Owyhee River boating launches are currently closed, she said.

Staff are asked to adhere to a more stringent cleaning schedule in addition to their usual routine for maintenance and trash pickup, Bogardus said.

“Visitors should expect differing levels of services and available facilities at developed BLM recreation sites across Oregon and Washington,” according to BLM Oregon, and the BLM encourages visitors to incorporate a number of outdoor recreation practices “in order to avoid any unnecessary strains on nearby local communities and America’s public land resources.”

Idaho Power operates four campgrounds in Hells Canyon along the Snake River, three of which reopened on May 29. The McCormick, Woodhead and Hells Canyon Park campgrounds are open and have boat ramps available, said Brad Bowlin, communication specialist for Idaho Power.

At developed campgrounds where restroom buildings with showers are closed, additional portable restrooms have been set up, Bowlin said, and only two people at a time can use fish cleaning stations.

Idaho Power has its regular staff in place, he said, and is providing them with PPE and training them in proper protocols to follow social distancing guidelines and interact safely with the public.

Most of its campgrounds in Hells Canyon were full over the weekend as they often are, Bowlin said, encouraging people to visit Idaho Power’s website and book reservations before making the trip.

News tip? Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian at [email protected] or at 503-929-3053.