News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Campers set record at Detroit Lake

Oregon State Parks came close to a record number of visitors in 2023, with Detroit Lake State Park and Silver Falls State Park among the busiest.

Oregon Parks and Recreation Department officials reported March 5 that total parks visits were at an estimated 52.2 million a year ago. That’s the second highest figure ever, beaten only by the 53 million during the post-pandemic parks binge of 2021.

Overnight camping was down slightly statewide with 2.91 million campers compared to 2.97 million a year ago. The 2023 camping figure is the fourth best, wth the 3.02 million in 2021 the top figure.

Detroit Lake State Recreation drew 123,904 day-use visitors, a steep drop from the 158,000 in 2022 and an even steeper drop from the 2021 total of 204,000. Camping, meanwhile, increased at Detroit Lake from 93,100 a year ago to a record 99,496 in 2023. The previous high total was 99,466 in 2021.

Stefanie Knowlton, a spokesperson for Oregon State Parks, noted that it could be different counters and methods that led to the confusing figures about Detroit Lake.

“For day-use,” Knowlton said, “we use car counters so that is tracking folks who come in to the Mongold Day-Use Area whereas the camping is tracked by reservations at the campground.”

A press release noting the numbers quoted OPRD director Lisa Sumption as saying, “the overnight camping figure is derived by taking the total number occupied sites and applying a multiplier to estimate the number of camper nights. 

“The day-use figure is derived by taking car counts and applying a multiplier to estimate the number of visits. Car counters sometimes require maintenance and replacement, which can impact individual numbers. The overall results are OPRD’s best estimate for tracking trends over time.”

Silver Falls State Park, meanwhile, drew 1.18 million day-use visitors in 2023 as well as an additional 267,000 at its North Falls permit purchasing kiosk. The total is up substantially from the 877,000 that came to the park during the 2020 COVID-19 year, and it is just under the record of 1.2 million in 2019. The North Falls number is a record.

The camping numbers show 73,765 at Silver Falls, a couple of thousand above 2021 and 2022, but well below the record year of 2017 (80,124). Camping figures should be poised for a possible uptick given the park is adding approximately 50 spaces at its North Canyon area.

Using nearly $12 million in state general obligation bonds aimed at improving parks and campgrounds, Silver Falls also has added a new parking lot, restrooms, an information kiosk and permit pay station as well as a new trail that links the North Canyon area with North Falls.The campground construction is set to begin in April 2025.

Eleven facilities topped 1 million in day-use visitors in 2023, led by Harris Beach at 1.78 million. Silver Falls, with its 1.4 million is fourth, with Valley of the Rogue (1.57 million) and Oswald West (1.48) in between.

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