There’s a new manager at Wallowa Lake State Park these days.
Mac Freeborn arrived in April, and has picked up the management reins at one of eastern Oregon’s most popular and revered state parks. The 216-acre reserve serves more than 400,000 day-use visitors per year, and its popularity is growing. It’s currently the 12th most popular place to camp in all of Oregon’s State Parks, serving almost 90,000 campers in 2018, up 6% from the previous season.
Freeborn hails from Texas, where he worked in and managed a number of parks and recreation areas. Most recently, that included the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, as well as other state and local facilities. Most were parks that included water and boating, which makes him a natural for Wallowa Lake.
Freeborn is enthusiastic about his new position and about being in Wallowa County. “It just seems like a place where I belong,” he said. “Everyone has been friendly and helpful. The staff here is really connected to this place, and so for now, I’m just listening and learning from them. They are really the ones who know the park and are running it.”
Freeborn and the park will be undertaking two major projects in the next year. There is the realignment of the Wallowa River’s channels, which will include re-allocating about 30 percent of the river’s flow to an old and soon-to-be-refurbished channel that runs through the central portion of the day-use area. That will include construction of new pathways and pedestrian bridges to cross the stream, establishment of riparian vegetation, some re-sizing of parking areas, and new interpretive signs, all of which are presently being designed.
Freeborn is enthusiastic about this project. “It’s going to be great to connect our visitors more closely with the kokanee and the river,” he said.
Establishing a new “micro-hydro” power plant is another “green” project that has just started at the park and will be completed under Freeborn’s tutelage. Developed in collaboration with Wallowa Resources and Pacific Power, the project will pipe the park’s water from its source higher on Chief Joseph Mountain into a turbine located near the park’s old amphitheater.
The turbine will be housed in a small log cabin and will be visible to the public, complete with an interpretive sign that explains its functions. The 150 kilowatts per year that this micro hydro project produces will save the project’s owner, the Wallowa Lake Service District, a municipal water and sewer entity managed by Wallowa County, about $15,000 a year in energy costs.
Freeborn is looking forward to learning more about his park and enhancing its roles in Wallowa County.
“We are one of the major attractions here,” he said. “We can help people connect better with this incredible landscape.”