Water windfall: Some local lakes reach near-capacity

·4 min read

May 30—Despite an unusually dry winter and back-to-back drought years, boaters, paddlers and other water sports enthusiasts are in for a pleasant surprise at Jackson County's two largest lakes — and it comes just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

On Friday morning, data from the Jackson County Watermaster's Office and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation showed Lost Creek Lake was 99% full, and Applegate Lake was 85% full.

Jackson County Parks Director Steve Lambert said he was bracing just a few months ago for Lost Creek Lake to have one of its worst water years in a generation, "and now, all of a sudden, it's full."

"We weren't expecting it. The fish managers up there weren't expecting it. Nobody was expecting it," Lambert said. "The wet April and first start of May helped us quite a bit."

On Friday, it was raining again, and more was in the forecast

"We are ready to rock 'n' roll up there for the summer," Lambert said.

Earlier this year, Lambert said he anticipated the day-use area at Joseph Stewart County Park would've been usable only through the month of June, and a swim beach would've been "high and dry" by the middle of the summer.

"Now we're looking at a situation where the boat ramp and marina would be usable all the way through Labor Day," Lambert said, adding that "things are in really good shape up there."

Lambert said the county expects much more activity at Lost Creek Lake compared to last year, and for the county's boat rentals to go much more swiftly this summer. At Joseph Stewart, the county has 10 fishing boats and four pontoon boats available for rent, and Lambert encourages those interested in boat rentals or moorage slips to call the county parks office for reservations ahead of time at 541-774-8183.

"The pontoon boats especially are very popular," Lambert said.

It's not the only lake expected to be busy this season. Lambert said he expects Willow Lake to remain popular because it was an "outlier" during last year's droughts and managed to maintain a high level, and Agate Lake is 100% full.

Until the latter half of May, Applegate Lake was so low that the boat ramp at Hart-Tish Park was closed. On Friday, however, Applegate Lake was 85% full and "everything is open and operable," according to Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest spokeswoman Virginia Gibbons.

Other Southern Oregon reservoirs still have lots of ground to make up after years of drought. Emigrant Lake was at 30%, Howard Prairie and Hyatt lakes were both are at 16%.

"There's not much we can do from a boating perspective," Lambert said, but Howard Prairie, in particular, remains a nice place to camp, boasting cooler temperatures in the summer heat and few mosquitoes.

"It's still the same old campground, just a little farther from the water," Lambert said.

With extra traffic expected on the water Memorial Day weekend, Jackson County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Shawn Richards said boaters should prepare for extra marine patrols, and make sure to wear life jackets in preparation for temperatures as cold as the low 50s in some lakes.

"The big thing that we try to get out there is the water is extremely cold," Richards said. "We want people to wear a life jacket and be cognizant when they're in the water. Regardless of the water body, it's really cold temperatures right now."

It's unclear whether the improved lake levels in Southern Oregon are boosting the local demand for boating licenses and registrations, according to Oregon State Marine Board spokeswoman Ashley Massey, because some parts of the state still face drought conditions.

Massey said Thursday that the agency was "running about average" for new registrations, "but it does depend on fish and water."

"We're holding steady," Massey said. "We do see an uptick every spring."

Massey encourages boaters to plan ahead and check for obstructions and details about boat ramps ahead of their trip by referencing the Boat Oregon Online Map available at www.oregon.gov/osmb/Pages/Reported-Obstructions-Alerts.aspx.

"We're encouraging folks to just plan ahead," Massey said. "Take a look at what reservoir levels are looking like right now, and have a Plan A and a Plan B because of the fluctuating water conditions."

The Marine Board has seen an increase in paddling activity across the state. Massey encourages boaters to "start out slow and really pay attention to your surroundings."

"When you're sitting up higher on the water in a motorboat, sometimes paddlers are harder to see," Massey said. "Situational awareness is a really big safety component."

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.