Monday, June 22, 2009

Champoeg State Park

My initial reaction to this park was dislike. However, the more I walked around, the more I softened up. My typical vision of camping is a dense coniferous forest replete with sword ferns, moss, Methuselah's Beach, and the aroma of nurse logs. I found myself greeted with wide open spaces, a mixed forest, and a plethora of wildflowers. While not my traditional choice, I unexpectedly revelled in the beauty of this area.

Champoeg (pronounced "shampoo-ey") has a fairly decent mix of family-friendly activities. A few paved hiking biking trails wend through the park as well as a few well-maintained hiking trails. While I did not trod much of them with my own feet, they have been reported as very easy. The day-use area is large and within walking distance of the campground. It offered a 15-hole disc golf course, horse shoes, and access to a dock on the river. While trails may dip closer to the river, this was the only access to the water I found near the campground. It seems to be the "bring a book and cool your toes" sort of experience with the river rather than the splash in and poke at the water denizens type. A few people were also fishing off the dock.

One hugely unique perspective Champoeg offers in a historical look at the little town that was lost to the river flooding. They offer reenactments of everything from blacksmithing to children's games. There are old cabins and houses that have been transformed into museums. Quite a bit of history, complete with markers and monuments, seems to be the origin of this park. They also have the Historic Butteville store, the oldest continually operating store in the state. This history portion of the State Park will require you to drive or hoof it a decent, though not entirely daunting, way.

Finally, I noticed what I believe were goldfinches fluttering around the campsite frequently. After engaging one of the park rangers, I found out there used to be a host or ranger who frequently the campsite whose nickname is "Bird Lady." She took on many projects to encourage the avian population to settle in and around the campground. One of these was to construct nesting boxes for the bluebird population in the park. In the spring, they keep track of where bluebirds have moved in and denote the boxes with a strip of blue tape. If you have patience, you will certainly see the mating pair and perhaps even offspring. While the activities are not all quite my speed, the variety and availability certainly merits a 5.

Site Quality
I must admit, openly and honestly, that reviewing the sites were a bit of a trick this trip. I was actually camping in the group site with some friends which is removed from the rest of the campground, more attached to the day use area and down a little dip. As far as group sites go, this one was incredible. The group sites here are extremely spacious, complemented by enormous concrete fire rings which radiate heat from even a small campfire admirably, and plenty of tables. Plus, the dip gives you a lot of privacy.
The tent sites look surprisingly nice. After walking the rest of the park and seeing the hookup sites, I didn't expect much, but the tent sites have their own mini-loop and seemed to be cradled in foliage. There were many tall trees and thick shrubbery that provided both ample privacy and shade. I didn't get a chance to wander around in any as they were all occupied, but it looked as though there was plenty of room for a tent and still plenty of "living space" for the table, firepit, and enjoying the site.

The hike-in/bike-in camps left a lot to be desired. A short path from the campground let into a clearing with firepit and tables. There were no defined borders between sites and you could actually see the back side of someone's house from the sites. It also wasn't far enough away from the campground to really remove you from the activity and noise. None of the hook-up sites offered any privacy. The ones in A Loop were lightly shaded with flowers like wild roses between the sites while the B loop ones had short shrubs, if anything. However, they were spacious, open, and bright. Overall, I would say the site quality here is a 4, with the strong recommendation to get a tent site.

This park was extremely well-maintained. In fact, the expertly trimmed undergrowth and general landscaped feel removed some of the feeling of wildness from the park. All of the facilities were in excellent repair. The entire park was very clean; I'm not sure I saw a single scrap of litter. I never interacted with the hosts here and had a hard time tracking down the rangers on Saturday. It seemed like their booth was closed all day. When I did chat with one, he definitely knew the information you'd find in a pamphlet about the park. After I pressed, he shared the story about the Bird Lady. He knew what he was doing, but I didn't feel like there was much he had to share that was a special "extra." In general, I'd give it a 4.5.

Overall Value
Low-to-moderately priced, Champoeg State Park is a neat, self-contained park filled with a number of activities. However, with powerlines visible in parts of the park, homes, and the manicured look, the park sometimes feels less outdoors and more vacationy. I feel like the value here is a 4.

Each site comes with mobile tables and firepits with water and sink disposal accessible. Interestingly enough, this park still offers dumpsters and recycling centers throughout the park rather than a central compactor. Hosts sell firewood and ice and the park also offers visitor parking. As far as sites go, Champoeg offers traditional tent sites, hook-ups with and without electricity, yurts, small cabins, and three group sites. The day use area is large with many gathering areas as well as individual picnic areas. It has disc golf, trails, and horseshoes. Wildlife is abundant at this park with gophers, moles, and/or voles making their presence known through little mounds here and there. There are many songbirds as well as nesting osprey. Garter snakes, coyotes, deer, squirrels, and other common northwest animals are all potential sightings here.

Miscellaneous Notes
As I was group camping, I did not pay. I believe the ranger booth accepted at least cards and cash, with checks a possibility as well. I noticed a few mosquitoes and no-see-ums around twilight, so during the buggy times of year, I'd be sure to bring repellent. Pit toilets, flush toilets, and showers were all available. In fact, one of the central bathrooms has been newly remodeled or rebuilt; I'm not clear which. I admit, I did not specifically check cell reception, but I know it was fine at the day use area and group site. With the proximity of the park to freeways, I feel fairly confident in saying you'd likely get reception throughout the park. Check out their website as they actually have a short video showing highlights of the campsites and day use areas.

How hard is it to find?
It's very easy; just off the freeway. Hit I-5, get off at exit 278 (Donald/Aurora), turn right at Ehlen (signs for Donald), take a right at Case, and a left at the T which is Champoeg Road. Alternately, if I-5 traffic is bad, you can zip onto 219 and turn onto Champoeg Road that way.

Will you go back?
I'm kind of itching to actually try out the tent sites, so I think I will return. However, I'm more likely to head out to the park to wander around the day use area than to camp.

This campsite is distinct from many of the northwest Oregon sites you will see out there. It is a refreshing change of pace that seems built for a relaxing weekend. Quite frankly, with all the overnight options and the flowery, mixed-forest style of beauty this campsite professes, I would suggest it as a great area for those new to camping. It is the sort of place you could bring a skeptical grandmother to win her over. If not for an overnighter, Champoeg State Park at an overall 4.4 is definitely worth a visit.

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