071417-adh-nws-Linn Parks Eclipse01-my (copy)

The sun shines through the top of a tree at Sunnyside Park along Foster Lake near Sweet Home.

Mark Ylen, Democrat-Herald

Although we still have some summer ahead of us, the start of school signals the end of the camping season, so it's a good time to take stock of Linn County's continuing investment in its parks system.

It's an investment that is paying off for the county, its residents and those folks from outside the county who are making a point of traveling here for vacations — and are bringing along cash to spend here. We like the sound of all of that.

We use the word "investment" because that's exactly what the county has done over the last two decades or so. Linn County officials have made a point of prudently spending money to develop their parks, and the investment is paying off handsomely. Brian Carroll, the director of Linn County parks, made his annual report to the commissioners this week, and if he was crowing a bit, who could blame him? Income from the parks in the 2016-17 fiscal year totaled $1.87 million, beating an aggressive budget target by some $4,000. To provide a point of contrast, 20 years ago, when Carroll started working for the county, the parks generated some $235,000 in income. 

Even better, the county has been smart about those investments: It has spent money on this work only if it has the money in hand. and it's worked hard to get money from other sources — grants, for example — to help lighten the load on county taxpayers. And it has sought partnerships when appropriate; for example, the county manages some campgrounds for the Forest Service, an arrangement that appears to be working well for both parties. 

Carroll told the commissioners this week that the summer months continue to be very busy at the county's facilities, although the recent smoke from area wildfires depressed those numbers a bit. In an encouraging sign, he said that the parks are seeing increased use during what tourism experts call the "shoulder seasons" — in other words, spring and fall. That's important because as facilities fill to capacity during the summer, the big opportunity to increase usage comes during the off-season — and mid-valley residents know that spring and fall can be extremely nice times for outdoor activities like camping (assuming you're prepared for a little rain). 

In the meantime, the Parks Department is still working through a long list of projects to improve its facilities. Work still remains, for example, on the second phase of an expansion at the Whitcomb Creek campground that will more than double the number of available camping slips. County officials are kicking around ideas for a major expansion of Edgewater Marina on Foster Reservoir. At Clear Lake, one of the county's jewels, work continues to replace older wooden boats with newer aluminum models. A grant from the Oregon State Marine Board will help cover the costs of work at Peoria County Park. 

In a county the size of Linn, it would have been easy to let these park holdings fall into a general state of disrepair. It's a credit to the county's leadership and its Parks Department that they have instead become true assets to the county and its residents — not to mention the growing number of people from outside the county who are coming to love these properties as well. (mm)

A touch of rain

In a few months, of course, we'll all be complaining again about the rain — it's one of the ways we spend our winters in the mid-valley. However, we bet that you were excited to see even the relatively small amount of rain that fell in the mid-valley on Thursday afternoon. We'll need a lot more rain, of course, to put much of a dent in the state's wildfires — and we're hoping that the lightning strikes that have gone along with the rain won't blossom into big new fires. But Thursday's rain was a welcome sight indeed. (mm)

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