Thursday, March 5, 2015

Three Trout Ponds and a Century of War: A Spring Break Destination

Ride your bike to a shipwreck. Hide out in a military bunker. Cook fresh-caught trout over a campfire. This must be Spring Break in Oregon.

This is, of course, Fort Stevens State Park, located on the northwestern tip of the state where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. Military installations have been built in this strategic area since the Civil War, and they remain in various stages of decay for our modern-day exploration. Preservation ranges from shiny-painted, new-looking bunkers to installations that are so unstable, they have to be roped off for safety reasons. Pick up a free map, as these defenses were built up over many years and they cover quite a large area. Only the Civil War earthworks are a reconstruction; the rest is original, spanning the Victorian era to the end of WWII. While the map offers excellent descriptions, many mysteries remain for your discovery: odd bits of foundations, random holes, and buildings not labeled on the map. Bring a flashlight, as many of the rooms tunnel into darkness.

Coffenbury Lake
Back at the Fort Stevens Campground, you can rent a yurt, pitch a tent, or park your RV. Pick up a campground map, as this is home base for a variety of adventures. Three small lakes are located near the camping area. Coffenbury is the easiest to find, located right next to the beach road, and it is often heavily stocked with trout. Two nearby lakes, Crabapple and Abbott, offer paddling and some fishing; look for a small road leading out of the Coffenbury parking lot to find these tiny lakes. Much of the campground is accessible, including several yurts, and there is accessible fishing at Coffenbury.

We always bring our bikes to this campground. A network of trails leads all through the park, passing wetlands, isolated little Battery Russell, and, yes, the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a ship that beached here in 1906. A longer bike ride (or a short drive) leads along the Columbia, where you can sit on a sandy shore and watch huge ships pass in and out of Astoria. Bird watching is also excellent here where the river meets the sea.

To find Fort Stevens, take US 101 north from Seaside or south from Astoria and turn toward the little town of Warrenton. Excellent signage will direct you toward the campground or the fort itself.

If the state park is full, or for a different camping experience, try the KOA across the road. They offer cabins and RV spaces, as well as semi-sheltered tent sites with small roofed areas. The KOA is perfect if your idea of camping includes a swimming pool, a hot tub, wifi, and a gift shop. There is also a simple restaurant where you can begin your day sitting next to a stranger, tucking into those large, rubbery disks so often sold as pancakes. They are included with your camping fee, so eat up. This is ballast for your activity-filled day at Fort Stevens.
Battery Russell

Fort Stevens
Fort Stevens
Fort Stevens

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