Visitors make s'mores during a July 2019 camping trip at Silver Falls State Park (Courtesy/Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation)

The campground at Detroit Lake State Park could reopen this summer following extensive repairs as Oregon’s state parks system hopes to return to a more normal season in 2021.

Numbers provided by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department show use of state campsites plummeted last year as the pandemic took hold and smoke billowed from historic wildfires.

The 11 campsites in the department’s Region 2, which includes Salem and surrounding areas, saw 295,553 people spend the night last year, down from 475,667 in 2019. 

Detroit Lake State Park campground was Oregon’s 10th most popular campground in 2019 with 96,466 people spending the night next to the scenic reservoir in the Santiam Canyon. That number dropped to 61,832 last year. 

But the park remains closed after being extensively damaged by last year’s wildfires that left much of Detroit in ruins. Park staff are continuing to repair its infrastructure and it could reopen by this summer, park manager Bob Rea said in a statement. In the meantime, Mongold Day-use Area and boat launch are open, he said. 

Chris Havel, spokesman for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said opening the park depends on repairs to its drinking water tank. He said park staff are cutting off the burned top and installing a new cover. The delivery system needs to be treated and tested to make sure it delivers adequate drinking water, he said. 

 “We normally do a fair bit of repair and maintenance in between seasons, and spending reductions made that harder,” said Havel. “But crews are putting in extra effort to get us ready for 2021.” 

Last year, 1.9 million people spent a night in one of Oregon Parks and Recreation campgrounds, which were closed between March and June last year. That’s down from the 2.9 million that stayed in 2019. 

A few parks in more remote parts of the state saw increases in campers. Minam State Recreation Area in Wallowa County saw the number of people stay in a campsite increase by 1,000 to 5,498. Red Bridge State Wayside in Union County saw 1,934 spend the night, an increase of about 400. 

For 2021, camping at state parks will be the same in many ways as last year. Some buildings like visitor centers, museums and gift shops will remain closed. Signs will also be in place reminding visitors to keep their distance from people not in their households and to wear masks if they can’t.

Rates will stay the same but there will be a $3 increase for electric hookups at about 20 parks, including Silver Falls State Park. 

Oregon Lottery and park visitor fee revenue, which fund state parks, are expected to be down by more than $20 million. But park staff will be near pre-pandemic levels because of spending cuts in 2020, Havel said. That means there will be more people to answer questions, maintain landscapes and clean buildings, he said. 

“Between the bruising 2020 and still some uncertainty in 2021, we felt it best to keep things status quo as much as humanly possible,” he said.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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