WALLOWA LAKE — The last weekend of July is all about Chief Joseph Days in Wallowa County. This year, with no rodeo, no celebration and COVID-19 fears rampant, merchants and recreational businesses expected to have a very slow week.
But a check of some attractions at Wallowa Lake village painted an entirely different picture.
Business for many was bustling. At the tramway, ticket sales were at a normal level and had been for much of the summer. Tram co-owner Mike Lockhart said that his business was “doing good,” despite being somewhat hampered by having to keep more distance between people in the tram cars, and only placing the normal four passengers in the car if they were related or in a group.
The tram is requiring masks for all its passengers and also has reduced seating at the restaurant, he said, with some of their outdoor tables now located on the hill just east of the restaurant.
“We’d rather err on the side of safety,” Lockhart said. “We want to keep our employees working and healthy. Their jobs are important to the community.”
Lockhart also noted that many tram visitors had not been to the county previously.
“There’ve been really nice people,” he said. “I hope they come back.”
There were long lines at the Wallowa Lake Speedway go-cart track. The marina reported record boat rentals and sales. The state park’s campground was full. At the north end of the lake, The county park’s parking lot was full, and vehicles were parked along the road. Especially on Saturday, the swimming area was very popular at both parks.
And as if to celebrate Chief Joseph Days in absentia, a lot of people decided to go for horseback rides at Wallowa Lake Pack Station. The station’s manager, Jackie Lovell, said that while much of the summer was slow, people were still doing rides and business was kind of unpredictable.
“On the Fourth of July, we had a record-breaking day,” she said. “And this weekend we have triple the number of rides and reservations we had this time last year.”
Lovell was filling in for the owners who had to be out of the county at this time.
Marina manager Casey Barstad said that business was really, really good. “This year has blown last year’s rentals and sales completely out of the water,” he said. “Last Monday broke our all-time record.” His employees have been putting in as much as 15 to 20 hours of overtime, he noted.
“It seems like a lot of people want to get away from cities and get out into the fresh air,” said Greg Jarman, who owns the Wallowa Lake Speedway.