Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Lake Beside the Sea: Devil's Lake

Many visitors to Lincoln City don't even know this three-mile-long lake exists; they are here for the ocean, or the shopping. Other visitors come just for the lake. Either way, it is a perfect escape from the blowing sand and heavy surf often found on Oregon's beaches. Next time you're in Lincoln City, check out this beautiful coastal lake and the D River (arguably the world's shortest) that connects it to the ocean.

The lake's proximity to Lincoln City provides access points at six different parks. Which park you choose depends on several factors, as the lake offers a variety of recreational opportunities. We will begin at the southwest corner and follow the lakeshore in a clockwise direction.

The first park, Hostetler Park, is easy to miss. NE 1st Street looks like a hotel parking lot, so many people drive right by. Look across Highway 101 from the D River Wayside, on the north end of the bridge. Turn east on NE 1st and you will see a small, primitive park next to the river. This spot is popular with dog owners who are looking for a safer or less-salty place to let their dogs play in the water. It also has off-the-beaten-path picnicking. Keep following the road as it narrows and passes over a slender bridge to another parking area. Here you will find a small, primitive put-in for hand launching paddle craft. This is the place to launch when the winds are from the south; you can paddle the southern end of the lake in relative peace. There is a tiny canal passing beside lakefront homes, but much of this part of the lake is bordered by a wetland and frequented by water-loving birds. If you don't have a boat, look for a wooden walkway heading off into the wetland. This path is accessible for most and offers a quiet birdwatching spot on its way to the State Park.

Heading north, a right turn just past the Cultural Center leads to Devil's Lake State Campground. In the summertime, expect this campground to be fully booked. We like to go in the winter, and we have never had trouble finding a spot. One word of warning, though, if you plan to reserve online: much of this campground seems to be about 4" below the water table during the rainy season. It might be a better idea to scope out the many dryer sites in person, and be sure to bring rubber boots for the kids. None of the sites have lake views. There is an accessible paved path from the camping area to the docks, where you can try your luck at fishing or tie up a boat (launched elsewhere, as there is no ramp here). The beach is a short walk from this campground.

Taken near the Regatta Grounds dock.
The next two parks are on West Devil's Lake Road. Heading north in downtown Lincoln City, turn right on NE 14th Street and follow along toward the hospital. Before you get to the hospital, you will see Regatta Grounds Park dropping off steeply to your right. If you brought kids, this is your park. There is a fishing dock, a swimming area, real restrooms, an excellent boat launch, and, best of all, a big play area. It is somewhat sheltered from northerly winds and has numerous picnic tables. This is also a good place to launch paddle and sail craft, although this central part of the lake is very popular with motorized boats. Be prepared to encounter boat wakes and the occasional negligent speedster.

Continuing on West Devil's Lake, pass the hospital and go through a residential area, watching on your right for Holmes Road Park (if the road curves and heads downhill, you missed it). This tiny park is all business, offering docks and a good boat ramp for fisherman headed for the deepest part of the lake. There are restrooms and a small parking lot with a bird's-eye view over the water. This park is a good place to launch paddle craft when the winds are out of the north; the northern arms of the lake are fun to explore, and the majority of the motorboats favor the middle of the lake.
Continue on West Devil's Lake Road and meet Highway 101 at the north end of town. Following 101 away from Lincoln City, watch for a right turn onto East Devil's Lake Road. This will lead to our last two parks.

A right turn onto NE Loop Drive, just past the KOA, will bring you to a tiny jewel of a park. Just before reaching Sand Point Park, you will see a simple boat ramp on the lakeshore. Then you will find the park. It is tiny, there is not a lot of parking, and the restrooms always seem to be locked when I need them the most. There are only a couple of picnic tables; it all looks rather unremarkable. But not only is one of the tables easily wheelchair accessible, it even has a small barbecue. Now look a little further, and you will find a wooden ramp to a small, accessible beach. Everyone can visit this slender strip of lakeside sand, sheltered from the prevailing northerlies and facing any sunshine that might be available. The ramp is great for launching canoes, kayaks, or small sailboats to explore the northern lake arms, and the little beach makes a good swimming spot on the rare warm days.

Drive along the east side of the lake to our last stop, East Devil's Lake State Park. This tree-shaded park has a nice boat ramp and dock, as well as plenty of parking for boat trailers. Numerous picnic tables make this a popular spot for families to hang out and barbecue, although it can be a bit chilly here when winds are howling out of the north. Take a short drive past the park and you will find the Factory Outlet Mall, which offers an alternative to outdoor activities if the weather turns ugly. Be aware that there is often water over this last stretch of East Devil's Lake Road; drive with care.

Stocked with rainbow trout every spring, Devil's Lake has become a popular spot to bring kids, fishing poles, and the family boat. As the water warms during the summer, the lake sometimes experiences algae blooms and caution might be needed while around the water; this page details the latest water quality for the lake. The water is monitored by the Devil's Lake Water Improvement District, which maintains an excellent website with everything you could want to know about the lake.

Next time you're in Lincoln City, plan to spend some time at Devil's Lake. Savor the salt air, the wind-rippled water, and the lovely lakeside homes. Look for ducks, coots, and geese. Listen for redwing blackbirds and tree frogs. Bring a picnic, snap some photos, and maybe even bring home a fish or two.


Friday, February 5, 2016

Spring Fever at Freeway Lakes

I have driven over this body of water countless times. Chances are you have, too.

For years, passing along I-5 on our way from somewhere to somewhere else, we noticed a waterway under the road. At some point, a sign was installed: Oak Creek. But it didn't look like a creek. Then we caught a glimpse of wider water, set back in a grove of trees (oak trees, as it happened.) We started to wonder: was any of this water bordered by public property? And if so, how could we get to it? We perused maps and questioned the locals in nearby Albany. Thus it was that we discovered the access to Freeway Lakes, a series of three small lakes connected by short channels.

As it turns out, not only are these lakes next to (and under) the I-5 Freeway, they are a part of the freeway. Rock and fill were scooped out here and used in building the roadway. The resulting holes, filled with water, are now a popular county park. It is actually a pretty park and could be very peaceful with the right earplugs.

These lakes are regularly stocked with rainbow trout and are also known to produce largemouth bass and crappie, as well as the occasional catfish. The first lake is easily accessible, with a small dock and a wide, dirt-and-gravel boat ramp/parking area that is usually occupied by folks in lawn chairs, wielding fishing poles.

Of course, the bass are warmwater fish and not very active in late winter, and ODFW is not scheduled to start stocking here until March. This does not dissuade fishermen (and women) who are suffering from spring fever. Rumors abound among the worm-drowning hopefuls: possible early trout plants, unannounced by Fish and Wildlife. Huge holdovers from previous years, lurking in the depths. Of course, one particularly large one was caught just last week, I should have been there. I always should have been there last week; I seem to live in a perpetual fish-related time warp.

This spot is popular with local families, who bring kids, dogs, and picnics and hang out on the banks. It's a fun short paddle, as well; the three lakes only total 39 acres, but the shoreline is pretty and birdwatching can be surprisingly good. The creek comes in at the east end, and at high water levels there is a little current, especially passing under Three Lakes Road between the first and second lakes. Later in the year, this passage is a bit shallow, but still passable in the deeper part on the right.

The easiest way to find these lakes from I-5 is to take the Highway 34 exit (Corvallis and Lebanon) and head east toward Lebanon. Watch on the left for Seven Mile Lane, which comes up pretty quickly. Follow Seven Mile Lane until it swings left toward the freeway; the road that takes off to the right is Three Lakes Road, which passes between the middle and eastern pools. There is roadside parking near the bridge, or turn right into the parking area. There is a vault toilet here, and small boats can easily be launched from the parking lot. Across the road look for a pathway alongside the middle lake that offers good fishing spots. This website has a map of the area, as well as a brief description of the park.

This is not pristine wilderness. You will not be alone here, and you certainly won't find silence, but you may find a bit of hope for spring as the ducks splash in the shallows and frogs sing from the mud. It may not be a destination worthy of a long journey, but it's a pleasant stop on your way from somewhere to somewhere else.