On many a summer night, three miles south of this city, another one soundly sleeps.
It is not incorporated, has no mayor, no city council, no land-use disputes — not unless you count the ones between sand surfers and dune climbers.
On any given summer day as many as 3,000 people can be found enjoying freshwater lakes among more than 500 acres.
“We’re talking about a lot of folks,” park manager Shirley Stentz says.
With about 400 campsites, and more than 1.5 million visitors a year, Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park is the second-largest overnight campground in Oregon — in the entire Pacific Northwest, for that matter. Only Fort Stevens State Park near Astoria has more campsites.
More commonly known as Honeyman State Park, it becomes one of the most densely populated areas on the Oregon Coast between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
“We are at capacity,” Stentz said, explaining that the maze of eight tree-covered asphalt loops that make up the camping area have expanded as much as possible.
“When we’re full, we’re full. Reserving (spaces) is really required now — a couple of months in advance,” she says.
If you’re looking for one of the 47 full-hookup sites (sewer, water, electricity), it might be more like three or four months in advance, if you’re talking summertime.
Originally known as Camp Woahink when it was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the federal emergency relief-work program of the Great Depression, the sprawling park was renamed for Jessie Honeyman 66 years ago. The native Scot came to Oregon in 1877 with her husband and children, and campaigned in the 1920s and 1930s to protect and conserve the beauty along Oregon’s highways.
President of the Oregon Roadside Council, she teamed with Samuel Boardman, Oregon’s first superintendent of state parks, to purchase and protect a large number of state lands along the coast.
Honeyman State Park sits at the northernmost point of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area that stretches 47 miles south to Coos Bay.
Climb to the top of the park’s first sand dune and you can look out at two miles of sand dunes, some as high as 500 feet.
Look back down and there’s Cleawox Lake — 85 acres of clear, clean water rippling in the wind.
“It’s a gorgeous place,” says Greg LeMieux of Brunswick, Maine, standing more than halfway up the dune with a sandboard in his hand. “And I think it’s really convenient that the water’s right there. You can board for a while and then hit the water.”
LeMieux, his hair matted in tubes of dreadlocks, is a counselor with Longacre Expeditions of Newport, Pa. The personal growth company geared toward teenagers offers summer tours around the world. On a day in July, LeMieux was with 16 teens from across the country who were seeing Oregon and sand dunes and Honeyman State Park for the first time — not to mention experiencing sandboarding for the first time. They were part of an 18-day expedition called “Surf Oregon” that included riding bikes more than 100 miles along the coast, sandboarding, surfing and whitewater rafting.
“It’s probably the nicest, most fun one we’ve been to yet,” said Michael Smith, 15, of West Bloomfield, Mich., comparing Honeyman to the other parks and places the teens visited: Cape Perpetua, Humbug Mountain State Park, Heceta Head.
Elena and Phil Mayer, a retired couple from Hideaway, Texas — about 90 miles east of Dallas — who drove their RV into Honeyman this summer, had also never seen sandboarding, nor sand dunes.
“Not even in Galveston,” Elena Mayer joked, camera in hand and sunglasses covering her eyes.
Though it looked enticing, the Mayers said they wanted no part of sandboarding. “No,” Phil Mayer said. “I don’t want to pick sand out of my teeth.”
“I can hardly walk up the sand dune,” his wife said.
Walking up the dunes can definitely leave you breathless. It’s no wonder professional athletes have been known to run up such dunes to stay in shape during an off season. And when the wind blows, you’d be wise to cover your face, lest you enjoy sand in your eyes and mouth.
“Oregon has a bunch of parks, but only about one in five have facilities for an RV,” Phil Mayer said. “It’s very nice,” he said of the park. “Big, busy. I like the fact that you’ve got shrubbery dividing every campsite. You’re not looking into your neighbor’s campsite.”
If you tow your all-terrain or off-highway vehicle in behind you when you arrive at Honeyman, you’ll have to head back onto U.S. 101 and to South Jetty Road for sand access during the summer. However, from Oct. 1 to April 30, there is access from the farthest back loop in the campground.
The camping sites were added in the 1950s and now include 10 yurts and a yurt meeting hall. All sites have campfire rings, and there’s an amphitheater for evening
Interpretive programs have been a big summertime hit at Honeyman since at least the 1970s. A sign in the park lodge lists some of the morning programs at the campground’s Nature Center. There are “Beaver Talks” and “Berry Walks,” “The Life of Sand,” “Creatures of the Night” and “History of Honeyman.” And, of course, the Junior Ranger program for kids ages 6 to 12 offered by most Oregon state parks.
The wood and stone lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938 and remodeled into a park store in 1980. It sits on Cleawox Lake’s northern shore and originally served as a bathhouse. Visitors can sit on the patio and watch the swimming, sunbathe on the beach, kayak, canoe or rent a paddle boat. If fishing is your thing, before deciding to angle your pole in for some rainbow trout, you might learn something from the osprey who dip down and pluck their catches from the water.
Hiking trails surrounded by pink rhododendrons in the spring, and huckleberries and blackberries in the fall, wend their way under old-growth Douglas fir. And there’s a volleyball area across the parking lot from the lodge, and a baseball field, too.
Across U.S. Highway 101, 26 miles of shoreline await at Woahink Lake for more swimming, boating and fishing.
Honeyman is the place to be “for fresh air and clean water and good, outdoor fun,” Stentz says. “And you can always see the historic footprint of folks who have been coming here for generations.”
On the Net: Honeyman State Park: www.oregonstateparks.org/park—134.php
Civilian Conservation Corps: arcweb.sos.state.or.us/50th/ccc/cccintro.html
Fort Stevens State Park: www.astoria-usa.com/fort-stevens-state-park.shtml
Longacre Expeditions: www.longacreexpeditions.com/