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The Register-Guard, June 10th, 2008 issue


Variety of camping, water sport opportunities make this
coast lake a popular one-tank destination
By Mike Stahlberg
The Register-Guard (republished with permission)

LOON LAKE — It was quiet here Saturday, a cool, overcast June afternoon, So quiet, the mournful call of the loon would have reverberated through-out the Coast Range canyon that cradles Loon Lake — if only loons still made their home here. But the salt-and-pepper colored waterfowl aren’t seen much at their namesake lake any more, probably because such quiet days are a rarity.

With only a couple of fishing boats on the lake and the beach nearly empty, Saturday was the lull before the storm at Loon Lake. Come July and August, the two-mile-long lake will be echoing with the roar of marine motors and the shrieks and laughs of youngsters at play.

Sheltered from coastal winds and fog, Loon Lake is a popular playground offering camping and rental cabins, picnicking, fishing, water-skiing and other marine motor sports, canoeing, swimming, sunbathing on a sandy beach, and hiking.

Between the public Loon Lake Recreation Area run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at the north end of the lake and the privately-owned Loon Lake Lodge & RV Resort along the southeast side, there are more things to do here than at other lakes of similar size.

How many lake campgrounds provide a children’s play-ground, horseshoe pit, beach volleyball net — and a basketball hoop in the parking lot? The BLM’s Loon Lake site does. How many have satellite TV and free wi-fi Internet access? Loon Lake Lodge & RV Resort does.

“It is definitely a developed, little-more-crowded experience,” BLM spokeswoman Megan Harper says of Loon Lake, ”but it’s got a lot to keep people busy in a small area.” The “something for everyone” aspect of Loon Lake makes it a good destination for families looking for a fun getaway that doesn’t involve driving too far. That’s why it was selected to be the first of several “one-tank trips” to be featured in the Outdoors Page over the coming available months. Located 85 miles from Eugene-Springfield, Loon Lake is about a one-hour, 45-minute drive from the southern Willamette Valley.

“This year we’re seeing a trend of people coming from a shorter distance in the state of Oregon and staying longer because of the gas prices,” said Jeff Schweiterman, resident manager of Loon Lake Lodge & RV Resort.

The variety of options available at Loon Lake extends to the overnight accommodations, which range from tent camping to rental cabins, cottages, a lakeside house — and even two yurts.

Campers can pitch their tents on a grassy bench below the lodge, or in sites carved out of the forest foliage at the BLM campground. RVers can get full hook-ups at the resort, or rough it at the public campground.

Both have flush toilets and showers available. (Except the lodge’s main tenting area, which has only pit toilets).

For those who prefer more traditional accommodations, the resort also offers motel-style rooms, cabins that sleep up to five people, cottages that sleep up to eight, and the house. The cabins are relatively new, added since the resort went through a change in ownership about four years ago. The resort is open year-round and prices vary by season, ranging from as low as $55-$95 a night for the motel rooms to as much as $150-$250 a night for the lakeside house.

Don’t feel like cooking in your room or over a campfire? The lodge deli offers meals with a view of the lake.

RV sites at the resort cost $24 to $38 with hook-ups, and campsites and RV sites with-out utilities are $15 to $24. The BLM charges $18 a night for its single-family campsites, which are already heavily booked for the summer. (Reservations are made through www.recreation.gov or by calling Reserve America at (877) 444-6777.)

“From the Fourth of July through Labor Day, all reserve able sites are already booked,” said the BLM’s Harper. How-ever, nine of the campground’s 52 sites are always available on a first-come, first-served basis.

“If people want to get one of those, they should come as early as they can,” Harper said.

Or, opt for one of the six sites a few hundred yards down the road at the BLM’s East Shore Campground, which offers a quieter setting, though you have to bring your own water. Campsites there rent for $15 per night.

The majority of Loon Lake’s visitors, however, are day users, most of whom come to enjoy the BLM’s man-made beach, or the park-like grassy picnic area that overlooks it.

“We get about 150,000 visitors a year,” Harper said, “and a lot of those are just day users, people who come to hang out on the warm beach during the day ... It’s got a really nice sandy beach that we put in every year” (hauling more sand in from the Oregon Dunes if necessary).

The day-use fee at the BLM site is $5 per vehicle, which also entitles visitors to use the boat ramp.

Water sports have always been big at Loon Lake, and they are more accessible with the opening of Loon Lake Water Sports and Marina at the RV resort.

The marina rents fishing boats, a ski boat, personal watercraft, a pontoon boat, canoes and kayaks, and a four-person paddle boat. It also has boat launching for a fee.

While water play is king during hot summer afternoons, fishing is also popular. The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife stocks Loon Lake with about 7,000 rainbow trout a year.

In addition, the lake has healthy populations of native cutthroat trout, plus bluegill, bass and catfish.

“A fellow out here a couple of weeks ago came in and said he’d caught and released 15 bass, the biggest one being 9.5 pounds,” said Schweiterman. Now, that’s a big fish.

”No sooner had Schweiterman told that story Saturday than Mike Bonebrake of Roseburg walked off the marina docks with a couple of fat trout.

“We’re not fish people,” Bonebrake said, “so this proves that you can catch fish in Loon Lake.

“If I can catch ’em, anybody can.”