Thursday, April 5, 2018

A Stop Along the Way: Waldport's Eckman Lake

Not many vacationers take Highway 34, the wickedly contorted route from Philomath to Waldport. When traveling to that section of the coast, it usually saves time to detour through Newport or Florence. Those who choose one of the quicker routes might miss one of Waldport's best-kept secrets, though: peaceful, accessible Eckman Lake.

This lovely little lake actually started out as a slough of Alsea Bay; its connection to bigger water was mostly blocked by the construction of the highway dike. Its water is fresh, fed by Eckman Creek at its south end. The lake is easy to find without braving Highway 34; it's only a couple of miles inland from Highway 101. Turn east at Waldport's only stop light. As you leave town, you'll pass over Lint Slough, a very tidal finger of Alsea Bay that is popular with birds and paddlers. Follow 34 along the bay to a small park on the right; here you will find picnic tables, a vault toilet, and a fishing dock. The dock itself is accessed by a ramp and is barrier-free, but a short stretch of lumpy lawn must be crossed to reach it.

The Steere family navigates the shallow southern end of the lake
Estimates of the lake's size vary from 45 to 59 acres. This puzzling fact may be partly due to variable water levels, and it may also depend on what one considers to be part of the lake. While the northern end along the highway is as deep as nine or ten feet, the rest of the lake is quite shallow, and the entire southern end is a non-navigable wetland.

In any case, this unassuming lake has much to offer vacationers who need a quiet spot to stop and relax. Fishing is popular here, from the dock, the roadside, and small boats. ODFW stocks it with rainbow trout, and the occasional cutthroat makes an appearance, as well. There are also rumors of coho salmon and good-sized bass being caught in these shallow waters.

The author in a small sailing craft
Human-powered boats may be hand launched from the park or from a pullout across the lake. Hand-launching is a must, as there is no real boat ramp. This is a great place to row or paddle, as the lake is somewhat more wind-sheltered than the bay, plus it is too shallow to be practical for motor craft. Small-boat sailing is fun here, too, but only in the deeper areas, and a kick-up rudder is highly recommended. Overall, this is one of the best spots we know for learning new skills or trying out new boats; the shallow water, sheltered location, and adjacent roadways make for easy rescues if they should be needed. It's an especially good place to teach children boating and fishing skills in a protected environment.

The ever-present osprey nest

Wildlife enjoy Eckman Lake, too, and it's a popular spot for birders, especially in the winter months. Anyone with binoculars can birdwatch here; there are several pullouts along the lakeside roads. A perennial fixture, the osprey nest on a power pole in the lake hosts baby osprey every year. Grebes, coots, cormorants, Canada geese, and a variety of ducks are also common here. Egrets and great blue herons wade in the shallows, and sandpipers can often be found along the shore. Keep an eye out for nutrias and muskrats, and if the lake has been recently stocked with trout, you may find river otters. If you look down into the water you are likely to find yourself face-to-face with the ubiquitous western newt; just make certain that the kids wash their hands after playing with these docile water dogs, as they do carry a toxin on their skin that should not be ingested.

There are larger, deeper lakes on the Oregon coast. Wide, scenic, and wind-scoured, they host jet skis, powerboats, and large sailboats. They offer more extensive exploration, fancier amenities, and, possibly, more exciting fishing. For a few hours of relaxation with kids, fishing poles, snacks, and/or small boats, though, give us Eckman Lake. Stop and join us on your next trip to the central coast.

A rare "lumpy water" day on the lake. Photo credit: Jaime Steere

The shallow areas of the lake are perfect for practicing new skills, such as learning to balance on a stand-up paddleboard...
...or sail...
... or perhaps learning to pole a canoe.
Alternatively, you can feel free to keep things simple and just enjoy the ride.
We'll see you out there, whatever you take!