Graffiti on the outer walls of a restroom at Lakeside Park, Cottage Grove Lake.
Courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Herschel Henderly was interviewed by Katy Barber in Eugene, Oregon on 23 October 1999.
B: Have you noticed since 1980 that the kinds of people who are coming to the reservoirs for recreation are different? Are you seeing more of those retirees coming in and using the lakes?
H: Traditionally, the people using our campgrounds have been locals. You'll find other Corps and other federal recreation projects, any kind of projects, where if you're near an interstate highway or major highway you'll be pulling a lot of travelers in who are not from you're area or not even from the state necessarily. Because our recreational facilities are several miles from the freeway, and of course being federal we can't put up billboards and advertise, maybe three percent of our overall users have traditionally been from outside the area and been non-repeat customers.
I phrase it that was because we can look at our user groups and divide them into three categories. We have the local repeat customers who live within say a thirty mile radius which takes in Eugene and Springfield, we have the non-local repeat customers – people from Roseburg and Salem and Toledo and Portland and even Grants Pass and Medford who for one reason or another because they happen to like that area, because they have friends in the area, because the meet other family members coming from the other side of the state and it's a halfway meeting point, because they like the boating or whatever – they come back once or twice or three times a year year after year after year. So they're non-local but they're repeat customers and they know the area and they keep coming back. Non-local non-repeat customers are maybe three percent of our users.
Now that part of the equation has not changed at all until this last year when the Corps of Engineers went on a nation-wide reservation system and we're starting to see the non-local non-repeat contingent increase because people can find us on the internet and they can make reservations far in advance and they see we're really not that far off of Interstate 5 so we probably were running 5 or 6 percent this year and it will probably increase in the future. Of the other two groups, in terms of changes within those groups, yeah, you see some more people who are, you know, retirees to the area. I don't think that is a major percentage, certainly not yet, but there's some change there that's noticeable when you've been around here long enough. Probably the biggest change we've seen hasn't come as a result of changes in the community but in terms of changes in our policies.
When I came here in 1980 – well, let me back up and tell you. The Corps of Engineers park rangers are supposed to enforce federal recreation resource management regulations, you know – length of camping stay, noise after ten p.m. in the camp ground, dogs on lease, cars off the grass, no vandalism and so on and so forth. Okay, the problem is that we have no arrest authority and no viable citation authority because if we write a citation and the person doesn't show up in the magistrate's court nothing happens, there's no arrest warrant. If they do show up, it's typically a slap on the hand. Over the years I've written a number of citations, I've always won, I've never lost a case but I've had people walk out of court with a fifty dollar fine for burning up a $350 picnic table. That is not effective enforcement.
Okay, so what we did starting in the mid-'80s was try to get a handle on some very long- standing and serious problems. Schwarz's Park, for example, was a place where people would go to do things they couldn't get away with elsewhere. Couldn't go to a state park and get away with what you could get away with in Schwarz's. It was in the mid-'80s the number one call out area for the state police post in Cottage Grove (when we had a state police post in Cottage Grove) during the summer, more calls out there than any other single place in south Lane County.
SIDE 2, TAPE 1
H: ...planned to deal with our enforcement problems. Obviously there was no chance in the foreseeable future of the rangers getting more training or more realistic enforcement powers, () enforcement powers. And many of us didn't really join the Corps of Engineers to be police. We prefer recreation management and maintain and various other things and don't mind asking people to put their dogs on leash but when you're having people going in using hard drugs and you have assaults and fights and threats and parties going to 3 a.m. and a lot of fairly serious problems and problems that can lead to more serious problems we needed to do something.
So we came up with a three pronged approach. First, was that we rebuilt areas so that we could better control problems using the structural approach. Schwarz's is a good example. In the past we had very poor campsite development. In many cases there were not individual campsites with a back-in and a table and a fire ring that were obviously physically separate from other campsite. People tend to go in, set up camp wherever they wanted to camp and then 20 or 30 other people could come in and join them. So we rebuilt it with new roads and all back-in campsites so we had, instead of party sites, we had individual camp sites which effectively means you are conquering by dividing. You don't let them reach critical mass in the nuclear terminology. Put in speed bumps. We used to have drag racing problems. And one Saturday night in the early '80 we had two cars totaled in Schwarz's Park in separate drag racing incidents. They weren't even drag racing each other when they went off the road, separate drag racing incidents from one drunken party on one night. So we put in speed bumps and then we put in posts at the end of speed bumps so people couldn't drive around them and we got permission, even before we were allowed to charge fees there, we got permission to put in a gate house and hire gate attendants to track everybody going in and out. Okay, and when you get to the gate attendants, that's the next leg. You have structural fixes where you're physically redesigning the park to limit your problems in various ways.
The second part, administrative fixes where, for example, before we could charge fees we started registering people and it is not only amazing, it's shocking how many people that first summer how many people that had been going there for years when they started pulling in and they found out, even though they didn't have to pay, we were going to write down their name and their license number who decided they didn't want to camp there anymore. And, of course, when you see people turning around for that reason you just smile and wave goodbye because you really don't want them in the campground. Another administrative change was to start charging fees on visitor vehicles because we had this endless cruising going on through our campgrounds, people going out and their cruising for parties and booze and drugs and buddies and whatever just to see what they could see. In some cases they were using cruising for friends as a cover for cruising through to see what they could steal later in the evening and they'd come back, park along the road at Pine Meadows, walk in and steal coolers.
Okay, for initially a three dollar vehicle fee, now it's four dollars and that really limits the number of people who want come in and cruise. And now if they just say we want to drive around and see if any friends are here we don't let them in. With have gate attendants and we just don't let them in., They have to come up with a name and better be reasonably believable. And the final leg was to improve our enforcement and make it effective. Well, we couldn't increase our own authority of training but what we did was go to state police and work out a state-wide cooperative agreement with the Corps of Engineers and Oregon State Police so we can hire retired officers or cadets.
They call it the Cadet Program which was initially set up to provide college age kids with like three weeks of training at state parks on the Coast to give them extra enforcement during the summer but those people don't have arrest authority, they can't carry a weapon, they have limitations on how late they can work a night, when they can work alone or when they have to have somebody with them. We have traditionally gone for retired officers and when we couldn't get enough we paid overtime officers. It's expensive. It's costing us about 35 grand for the summer at Cottage Grove and Dorena and another 35 grand in the last few years up at Lookout Point and Fall Creek but those officers are outstanding. They come to you with 25 plus years of experience, they can't be flim- flamed, every one of them has understood perfectly that our goal, is in terms of our agency, is not to see how many citations we write but to prevent problems and as I usually tell them during orientation I say, I have nothing against writing citations. If you see underage drinking, if you see reckless driving in the campground, if you see a problem that needs a citation, it's all yours. You know, write it, I'm all for it. But what I hope to see at the end of the summer is that we've written citations for everything that needed to be written but we didn't have to write many because people realized that we have good coverage, we have good enforcement, we're out there showing the flag everyday and they realize that this no longer a place where you can get away with the things you can't get away with elsewhere. In fact, we're the place where you can't get away with anything for any length of time. You might for a little while but pretty soon somebody's going to complain, the gate attendant will call a ranger or a state police officer, somebody will go over there and we'll handle the problem. So the state police have just done a great job.
We've totally turned that reputation around. We're attracting the quote unquote family campers now, not all of whom have families but they're coming there for legitimate recreational purposes rather than to do drugs and have drunken parties and underage parties, drinking and things like that. So, in terms of what kinds of changes have we seen, the changes we've seen have far more to do with changing this reputation than it has to do with the people who live in Cottage Grove. You know, I've seen a big change but we've seen, you know, family type people come in more and more and very few of the trouble-makers who were going there for years and years. Also, and to add one other thing that I forgot, is that the rangers very seldom worry about writing citations anymore. When we have people – our goal, of course, is compliance. And if it's dog off lease or car in the grass or things like that we say, good afternoon, how are you? By the way, could you put your dog on a lease? And they say, sure, ranger, no problem and we're happy. Okay, they come back next week, the dog's off lease again, we ask them again, they put on the lease again. Everybody's still happy. It gets to be tiresome but it's the people who do things that are really obnoxious or unsafe and when we have that problem, if the state police can handle it and cite them, great. Some things they really don't have authority over. They don't have anything that really covers dog off leash but if a guy says, and this is a quote, F you, ranger, it's a free country and my dog's going to be free. We say, sir, if you're not willing to obey regulations, you're leaving and we evict him. And by doing so we're ruining their camping weekend which is far more than they're ever going to get from the Magistrate even if they show up so between the state police and between using evictions as an enforcement tool we've had a big change in problems in the campgrounds and some of the types of people using it but that's not reflective of the type of people in Cottage Grove. We're just attracting a different group than we were before to some extent.
B: It sounds like those strategies have been very successful.
H: They had been. We get through the average summer and, like I said, the state police write the citations they need to but instead of three hundred citations per officer it might be forty or fifty. That's kind of a guess but I think it's reasonably close and we're reaching that goal. We go out, we show the flag. Since we're dealing with locals, reputation matters a lot. We've changed the reputation so now the people who want to do things that are obnoxious and illegal tend to go elsewhere and people who want to have a nice quite camping experience come to our parks so the number of problems we have to handle is way down. Unfortunately, if we stopped hiring the state police and paying them that much money pretty soon the riff raff would be right back again so we have to keep them on board but it's working very well. But that's a very round about answer to your question.
B: How much of your budget do you think goes toward enforcement and regulations that allow people to use the parks? H: Okay, we have two elements there: what we pay the state police which is the single big chunk and it goes basically for pure enforcement and safety. And then what we're paying our rangers to patrol the areas in the summer and, of course, that is partly enforcement, partly interpretation, part of it is information to the public. A fairly substantial chunk of our time goes in to working with the gate attendants, resolving problems which range from the computer system to the reservation system to questions they can't answer with the public to minor squabbles in the campground between campers or complaints that hardly rise to the level of an enforcement action but they have to be dealt with.
If I remember correctly, and this is just right off the top of my head, we have on the order of an $800,000 between the two lakes for everything. Last year we spent about 35 grand on state police and our summer ranger work, I'm going to say for the amount of money we spent on ranger time to deal with enforcement problems, if we add that to the state police we're still under $45,000 total so that would be five percent of our total budget which is not bad. It's a lot cheaper than my janitorial contract, you know. But those are the two things that are important for us, you know.
You have clean restrooms, people go out and have a good time and feel safe and sleep through the night and not have their neighbors yelling and screaming at 3 a.m., they're pretty happy. They don't care whether you have weeds in the grass but they care about clean restrooms and whether they feel safe. In fact, we did a customer satisfaction survey about five years ago, six years ago and we came out very well on that because of those two things. You know, the lawn may not look like much but the restrooms were clean and people felt safe and they were very laudatory about those things.