JOSEPH — Visitors to Wallowa Lake Park just outside of Joseph this summer will notice new signs outlining rules of conduct enforceable by both Oregon State Police and Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife holds an easement across private property owned by the Wallowa Lake Irrigation District providing boat access, via dock and boat ramps, and boat-and-trailer-sized parking spots.
Entrance to the park and boat ramp is free, but what many don’t realize is the land is entirely owned by the Wallowa Lake Irrigation District — ODFW’s easement is on the parking lot and dock, but the adjacent swimming area and lawn are outside of the easement. Despite this, the district has historically allowed swimming, picnicking and dog use for decades.
According to Joe Dawson, board member of the Irrigation District, the boat dock and beach at the north end of the lake have become more and more popular over the last 25 years.
“There’s been a steady increase in tourism from the 1990s to now, since Joseph started catering more to tourists and with recognition in various magazine articles,” Dawson said.
Increased traffic means increased conflict. Irrigation District President Dan Butterfield said his board and ODFW staff have met over the past two years to try and quell some of the park’s misuse.
Signs were posted to keep people from fishing and swimming near the dam in 2017, but talks continued with ODFW to get Oregon Administrative Rules posted — something the county nor the state, partners in managing the boat launch easement, have ever done before.
“We’ve had trouble with late parties and cars blocking our dam manager’s driveway,” Butterfield said. “Our job is to provide irrigation and we want our dam manager to be safe.”
Dawson said a few years ago he rented a house across from the park and tourists would ask to fill up water containers and use his bathroom.
“When we were kids, everyone used to go to the state park at the south end of the lake,” Dawson said.
The increased use led to an agreement that the Enterprise District Office would provide signs that complied with management of all of ODFW-controlled properties.
“The Oregon Administrative Rule gives cops the right to do preemptive enforcement on the easement,” Kyle Bratcher, acting Enterprise district fish biologist said.
The rules cite dogs must be on leash, no littering allowed, and that the park is closed between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Sheriff Steve Rogers told Irrigation District board members he would ask his deputies to include a cruise through the boat launch parking area during their nightly patrols of Joseph.
“The OAR gives state and county authority to come into the park,” Rogers said.