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Some of them are obscure and out of the way, but county parks in Yamhill and Marion counties offer delightful variety to the region

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Tucked away at the tail end of a quiet country road, Lafayette Forks Park in Yamhill County affords pleasant surroundings on the Yamhill River with a rich historic backdrop.Paying a visit to a seemingly unassuming, out-of-the-way Yamhill County Park, called Lafayette Locks, one can come away with a bounty of historical information.

A smattering of that historical lesson follows.

Lafayette was incorporated in 1846 as the original county seat. Wheat and lumber were key commodities and river transport was vital. Four Klickitat Indians powered a flatboat loaded with wheat to mills in Oregon City for $16 roundtrip.

More than a half century later the locks and a dam were established on the Yamhill River, creating a significantly deeper waterway that operated from the turn of the 20th century until 1954 when other means of transport rendered river trade obsolete, and the Army Corps of Engineers shut the locks down.

Yamhill County bought the locks and dam from the federal government for $10 in 1959. The county dynamited the dam and removed the lock doors in 1964 after the state Fish Commission determined they prevented native fish from migrating upstream to spawn.

More recently on a calm early-October afternoon a handful of people visited the park, most walking their dogs. A woman with two boxers timed her walk perfectly to catch a more salient scene as a helicopter circled the park several times then gingerly maneuvered through the Yamhill River tree canopy and alit atop a concrete slab, formerly part of the locks. A passenger stepped out of the chopper cab, took a selfie, the jumped back in and it flew off.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - A helicopter lands on a cement block once part of the Yamhill River locks near Lafayette Wednesday, Oct. 6.

County Parks

Although they are less known or visible than Oregon State Parks destinations such as Champoeg or Willamette Mission, mid-Willamette Valley parks operated by Yamhill and Marion counties are ripe with recreational offerings and variety.

"I didn't know about all the different county parks before I started this job," Yamhill County Parks Superintendent Benjamin Much said.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Lafayette Park is one of the few Yamhill County parks with a play area for toddlers.

An example of Marion County Parks' diversity can be appreciated by visiting two parks barely 10 minutes apart: St. Louis Ponds and Spong's Landing. The ponds are a favorite fishing spot just a couple minutes out of Gervais; Spong's Landing, located less than a mile from the northwest edge of Keizer, offers river views, a sheltered picnic area, modern kids playground equipment, tree canopies and a broad open space.

To illustrate park variety in Yamhill County, Much juxtaposed differences of two of them: Rogers Landing in Newberg and Charles Metsker Park west of McMinnville.

Rogers Landing

"Rogers Landing wasn't much of anything until about 20 years ago and then it got a major face lift. The Oregon State Marine Board financed a number of renovations over the years to make it into what it is today," Much said. "Because we have a grant agreement with the marine board, we would be in violation if we ran the landing as a regular park, meaning people can't reserve it for things that don't involve some kind of water event."

Much said Newberg Boat Club has been conducting a boat race at the spot for about 75 years, which is Rogers Landing's major event. Yamhill County Parks Department has been approached by other interested events, such as fun runs and bicycle races, but due to their agreement with OSMB, they've had to turn them down.

"The biggest reason for this is since Oregon boaters funded the landing needs to be open as much as possible for boaters," he said.

Yamhill County charges $3 to launch a watercraft at Rogers Landing or $30 for a yearly pass. That money goes into a fund that helps pay for the upkeep. It is the second most frequented access point on the Willamette River.

Charles Metsker Park

"Metsker is a true gem. It is in the foothills of the coastal range and was deeded to the county for the specific purpose of being used for teaching the area youth about the outdoors," Much said. "A few years ago, the county was able to rework the deed to make it available for outdoor education with no age stipulations.

"Right now the park is really only used a few weeks in the summer because of the COVID-19 restrictions on local school districts," he added. "It should come back sometime this spring hopefully. I received a call from McMinnville School District about taking classes up there then."

Metsker Park features include lush woodland, threads of hiking trails, Baker Creek snaking through it and a dam built by the park's namesake. The dam created Rainbow Lake, which has a boat dock and a science lab. At one time Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife stocked the lake, availing fishing lessons for kids.

"I'd hoped to bring (ODFW fish stocking) back, if possible. But the problem with that is ODFW posts where they stock fish, and anglers will show up to the lake, which is in violation of the deed," Much said. "Nevertheless, it is a beautiful area and full of the all the great things that make the great outdoors great."

Marion County

Marion County Parks Program Supervisor Tom Kissinger said the Marion County Parks system consists of 17 parks spread throughout the county.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Multi-feature Spongs Landing County Park is found at the end of a lightly traveled Marion County road just north of the northwest edge of Keizer. Unfortunately, 6 of these parks located in the Santiam Canyon region were heavily damaged by the 2020 wildfires and remain closed to public access while rebuilding and restoration work occurs.

The county's 11 parks in the Willamette Valley region offer a wide variety of recreation opportunities. These range from fishing areas at St. Louis Ponds and Aumsville Ponds to play structures/picnic areas at Spong's Landing and Scotts Mills.

"We even have horse trails at Joryville Park in the South Salem area," Kissinger enthused.

Spong's Landing

Similar to Lafayette Locks, Spong's Landing in Marion County is found at the terminus of a lightly traveled country road.

A county brochure lists its parks and specific features in each: geocache, horseshoe pits, horse-riding area, dog friendly, trails, fishing, boat ramps, water activities multi-use court, bicycling, ballfield, play equipment, restrooms, barbecues, picnic tables and campgrounds.

Although off the beaten path, Spong's Landing has more features than any other county park, only lacking a boat ramp (though kayakers and other light craft are often seen coming to shore there) a paved court and horse trails.

"Spong's Landing is one of our flagship valley parks," Kissinger said. "It's 61 acres in total, the park provides a variety of recreational amenities to visitors, including a large play structure for children, two picnic shelters, hiking trails, and access to the Willamette River for swimming and fishing. PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Sheltered picnicking and water views are among the many features at Marion County's Spongs Landing Park.

"We recently installed a set of concrete cornhole boards near one of the picnic shelters as well, and we are planning to reestablish water and electrical service to the two picnic shelters in order to provide a better user experience," he added.

Kissinger said longer-term envisioning has prompted conversations about adding a fenced-off dog park area, as many of Spong's users bring their pups.

St. Louis Ponds

St. Louis Ponds was deeded to Marion Count by ODFW in April of 1976, according to the county's website dedicated to the park.

"St. Louis Ponds is co-operated with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife: Marion County maintains the road, parking lots, and restroom, while ODFW maintains the fish ponds and docks," Kissinger affirmed.

"This unique fishing area also provides space for dog training and waterfowl hunting. While the park is open year-round, the main access road closes each year during the off-season (October 1 to February 28). We are currently exploring what it would take to keep the access road open year-round," he added.

Volunteer opportunities

Kissinger noted that Marion County Parks offers a variety of volunteer opportunities at various times throughout the year, as well as the adopt-a-park program for groups that would like to participate in park improvements. Visit the Marion County Parks website listed with this story for information.

"Particularly with the Santiam Canyon rebuild, there will be many more volunteer opportunities in the future than in years past," Kissinger said.

Yamhill County doesn't have long-term volunteer programs, but Much said they do have gatherings to clean and spruce up parks from time to time. Stay tuned for those.

County Parks info

Marion County

5155 Silverton Road

Salem, OR 97305

Phone: 503-588-5036

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Web: {obj:57501: www.co.marion.or.us/parks

}

Yamhill County

615 NE Sixth St.

McMinnville, OR 97128

Phone: 503-434-7463

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Web: www.co.yamhill.or.us/parks


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