The Curry County Parks Department will outline to county commissioners this morning an idea it has to transform Social Security Bar on the Chetco River into a paid recreational camp facility.
The meeting is slated to begin at 10 a.m. at the Courthouse Annex building on Moore Street in Gold Beach.
Social Security Bar is popular because it is nearby, on the river, often above the fog — and makes for a great spot for parties. Many neighbors like it for the same reasons — minus the partying.
The city, county, Department of State Lands (DSL) and others have for years discussed how to address the parties — and the ramifications of those parties, which often result in DUII arrests, car accidents and piles of trash and late-night noise.
Brookings owns 1.6 acres of land at the entrance, and the bar is in unincorporated Curry County, making it difficult — particularly at 1 a.m. on a Saturday — to determine who should respond to neighborhood complaints and break up a raucous party.
The county parks department said it could be interested in buying the access point owned by Brookings, developing a permanent recreational camping facility there and crafting a multi-year lease with DSL for RV camping on the river bar below.
“Curry County Parks has been in contact with both entities,” Parks Director Josh Hopkins said in a report to the commissioner board. “Both reported interest in seeing a proposal and a willingness to work on a plan.”
“The last time (this was discussed), the council’s priority was making sure it was accessible to the public,” said City Manager Janell Howard. “I think it’s an interesting concept. A lot of people I know love that location. It definitely needs to stay public, but to add a campground could be a plus — and a camp host on site would take care of a lot of the issues.”
General development could mean building the facility in stages over say, five years, Hopkins said in his report. The first two years could involve establishing a camp-host site at the access point, adding power, city water, trash service and temporary restrooms. The following year could involve building permanent restrooms, and the last year, building camping facilities on the access point.
It would be funded with grant money, using money generated from the RV bar camping as a match.
Preliminary sketches from years past have shown the access area could accommodate up to 16 RVs, a restroom with showers and a maintenance building.
One idea involved hiring a concessionaire to manage a camping park there. But there was little enthusiasm for that, City Manager Gary Milliman said at the time.
Councilor Jake Pieper — now the mayor — said the city shouldn’t be involved in the RV camping business, saying that was government-subsidized competition.
Most recently, the council has discussed installing a gate at the entrance, but decided against it, noting it would have to be opened and closed every day and some would merely go around it — or wreck it — to access the bar.
The idea of shutting down the bar at night didn’t appeal to anyone on the city council either, as most of them grew up — and still do — using it for late-evening barbecues, bonfires and other family activities.
The idea has the support of neighbors, Hopkins said, who have long complained about problems at the popular bar.
Gordon and Olga Nielsen are among those who fell in love with the area and bought a place near the river bar.
“Shortly after we moved, we were very disappointed to find out this area was used as a partying place and dumping ground by irresponsible individuals,” the couple wrote in a letter of support of a managed park. “Something needs to be done about the dumping, littering and crime on the river. It seems as if developing this area into a campground with a camp host to watch over things is the solution.”
The list of things they’ve seen over the years is extensive: an HVAC unit the size of a refrigerator dumped on the west end of the bar, an old dryer in the bushes on the east.
“As we write this letter, another two bags of yard trash were added to the four we found two days ago,” they wrote. “Yard maintenance trash is dumped on the river bar constantly.”
McDonald’s dishes, cups, fishing lines with hooks, paper, boxes, beer cans, plastic bottles, broken glass.
“Very often groups of people come to the river at night and stay there screaming, playing very loud music way beyond the time they are allowed to be there,” the Nielsens wrote. “They also start fires relatively close to the brush, even during ‘no fire’ seasons. We find many of these fires still burning in the morning.”
The Nielsens believe a campground there would change the dynamics instantly.
“It would not only clean the place up and preserve its natural attraction for tourists and residents, but would discourage the illegal activity taking place,” the letter reads. “We feel this would be a major improvement.”
Neighbor Teresa Rice submitted a letter of support, too, citing other problems she’s witnessed: noise, motorcycles driving 90 mph, homeless people, feces, needles, nails and garbage fires, among them.
“The response from all involved has always been to point the finger at each other and say it’s nobody’s fault,” Rice said. “Countless sleepless nights calling the Curry County Sheriff’s Department to be told there is nothing they can do; no sheriff or state police available.”
She said she was “thrilled” to hear of the idea.
“This is a wonderful idea,” she wrote. “The land will be treasured and cared for the way it should be. Land this beautiful should not be trampled and treated like garbage. A campground would give us a chance for peace and other people visiting more opportunities for places to camp and enjoy our lovely river. This is a golden idea that is a win-win.”