It’s not really a secret. It’s just that most people don’t know it’s there.
“It” is the Sprague River Picnic Area, an out-of-sight oasis off Highway 140 four miles east of Bly. It’s easy to speed past the roadside sign marking the area.
But as people in Bly know, the Sprague River Picnic Area is a place to wade in the river, fish for trout, enjoy a picnic at a riverside table and take a short hike to a set of Native American petroglyphs.
“There’s always tons of people out there,” says Rhonda Hickerman, support services supervisor for the Bly Ranger District. Although numbers aren’t recorded, she says it’s not unusual for 40 to 75 people to visit the area on a typical summer or fall weekday with more on holidays and weekends.
Although it’s mostly used by people living near Bly, on weekends it’s not unusual to find people from Klamath Falls, about 60 miles west, and Lakeview, about 35 miles east, to stop for a picnic with their families. Many travelers driving between the two cities, or heading on longer trips, stop to use the restrooms. (Tip: Because of budget cutbacks it’s a good idea to bring your own TP.)
The picnic area has a history. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews designed and built the park — and the Bly Ranger District’s classic rock walls and buildings — in the 1930s. It served as a campground until the late 1990s, when it was re-designated as a day use area.
Located in a rim rock canyon that’s not visible from the highway, the area’s main attraction are the Sprague River’s cool, bubbling waters. Sections of river, which normally are only about 12 to 18 inches deep, provide safe water play for families and children.
The former campsites, several along the river, serve as picnic sites. Because of budget cutbacks, however, the spacious grassy field that had horseshoe pits and a volleyball court is in need of care. But, as Hickerman notes, the covered picnic tables, large rock barbecue and area is frequently used for everything from weddings to Easter sunrise services. Earlier this year, the graduating class of 1959 from one school held a class reunion.
It is necessary, however, to go prepared. Because the water from the pumps has failed to pass necessary water quality tests, the pumps are inoperable.
Learning about the area is easy, thanks to a set of interpretive boards provide photographs and information about the region’s history, including logging, railroads, Native Americans and range lands. Although in good condition, information on some of the panels is seriously outdated. The panel about logging and logging railroads refers to a time when the former Weyerhaeuser shipped logs from Bly to their mill in Klamath Falls, a practice that ended years ago. The last logging train operated in 1990. The former rail line is now part of the OC&E-Woods Line State Park, which was created in 1992 when the rail line was converted to a rails-to-trails project.
Historically, the Sprague River Picnic Area has been and remains a place to relax and experience history. A bridge near the barbecue and covered picnic tables provide easy access to a short trail that leads to a set of Indian petroglyphs. The petroglyphs offer a look back in time, but the trail is also alluring because it follows along the steep, fractured canyon wall and offers sweeping views of the Sprague while passing through and along alders, ponderosa pines, junipers, cottonwoods and aspens and seasonal wildflowers.
The Sprague River Picnic Area needs some love, attention and repairs, but it remains a pleasant, off-road place to take an escape break.
As Hickerman explains, “A lot of people go down there. They go down there for the peace and quiet.”