Lobster Creek Campground used to be the kind of place that put the word "wild" in a wilderness expedition.
Camping experiences could include flying bats, skittering mice, buzzing insects - all in one's own cabin. That didn't include the rotting walls, black mold and dead animals in the crawl spaces.
"It was a regular rodent hotel," said Ken Dukek, Curry County parks manager and director of juvenile services. "Skunks, squirrels - all other kinds of nature."
This summer, Dukek and County Juvenile Community Services Coordinator Pat Ayling have been supervising crews out at the popular campground 18 northwest of Gold Beach, giving the grounds a much-overdue cleaning.
"You expect birds, bats, squirrels, bugs - you're in the wild," he told county commissioners in a summer wrap-up discussion Wednesday. "But now, it's more tolerable."
The crews trimmed back trees and shrubs, replaced moldy walls and mouse-urine-soaked plywood floors. They climbed into the false ceiling of the campground's main A-frame lodge - into the "rodent hotel" - eradicated the vermin and put seven bunk beds in the sunlit vaulted ceiling. Dukek thought they might have to replace all the windows at the lodge - until he realized they merely needed a good cleaning.
They replaced front doors on cabins and installed screens in the upper reaches to improve ventilation. They removed exterior siding - the wood on one cabin was so rotted, it flaked away in chips the size of pencil shavings, Dukek said. They replaced stained mattresses and wooden picnic tables, installed low-flow toilets, repaired roof leaks and rebuilt four of the campground's 11 cabins. A simple, square table now serves as a food preparation area - a vast improvement from the door set up on sawhorses that cooks used in the past.
Until recently, Dukek could not find the source of a water leak that was causing the facility to lose 68 gallons every 10 minutes. Frustrated, he took a hike in the park, was kicking around the dirt - and saw tiny bubbles percolating from the ground.
"It was the leak. It was 4 feet down," Dukek said. "We found it and fixed it. I guess it pays to be angry and kick dirt around."
Dukek was handed the keys to Lobster Creek and Boice Cope parks in May; he replaced county Parks Director Mike McGuiness, who was set to retire in June.
Dukek inherited a mess of problems that can be expected to be found in a decades-old facility - and had to get as much done as he could before the park reopened for the season in June.
Most reconstruction work, however, would take all summer and involve crews of Oregon Youth Conservation Corps. It cost about $20,000 for a cleaning contractor and materials and supplies; state Lottery-funded grant monies paid for the crews, which included two from Brookings and one each from Port Orford and Langlois.
Dukek was precluded from utilizing work crews from the jail, as there aren't enough deputies to oversee them and conduct daily operations as well.
"The place looks great," Dukek said. "Seeing it in pictures is one thing, but walking through it is another."
In addition to all the work on site, goals included updating the website and reservations system, getting the kitchen stove-hood certified for fire suppression and testing water again.
Three cabins still need to be rebuilt, and cabinet doors in the kitchen need to be removed to transform the storage areas into shelves that deter rodents. The kitchen floor and dining area need tile instead of another expensive layer of paint that usually lasts a year.
Dukek would like to replace the "1948-style Formica" kitchen counters with stainless steel for food-health reasons, needs to build an exterior wall to deflect water that runs toward the A-frame's foundation, and is working to get Wi-Fi to the area for those who can't go a moment without their electronic books or social media sites.
Ayling said he likes the primitive aspects of the area.
"It's all old-growth - real pristine," he said. "It's my favorite place in the whole world. It's a beautiful place. I have the best job on Earth."
Dukek suggested commissioners consider changing the rate fees to reflect "seasonal" and "peak" use of the facility and to stay competitive with other campgrounds in the state. And grant money is available with which the county could built two yurts or cabins.
Yurts at other campgrounds are in such demand, park visitors must book them six months to a year in advance; campgrounds generally charge $38 to $78 a night for their rental.
Revenue collected this year at Lobster Creek and Boyce Cope parks totalled $18,867 - and Dukek only had one complaint, about a broken coin mechanism in a shower.
This winter, Dukek plans to update brochures - and he's already fielding bookings for May and June.
"We haven't had that in a long time," he said. "And almost all the new bookings are for weddings. If you want to have a nice wedding out in the forest a little bit, and 100 people are going to show up, where you going to go? It's picturesque and it really works well."
For him, the test was a group of about 70 that has rented the facility for the past 20 years and descended on the park for its annual reunion again this summer.
"The kids ran upstairs to see, and they were all yelling, 'Awesome!' and 'Great!'" Dukek said. "They were really happy. That was the only feedback I needed, was those kids coming back."