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Built prior to World War II, the Imnaha Guard Station includes a three-room cabin, large barn, stable and corral. - Bill Miller

Recreation rentals popular

From brand-new buildings with modern fixtures to forest rangers' historic quarters, a variety of recreation rentals await novice and fair-weather campers in Oregon.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is widening its scope of campground accommodations to include deluxe cabins, while the U.S. Forest Service offers decommissioned ranger stations and fire lookouts to entice visitors to public lands. Both programs are so popular that — depending on the season — campers should book well in advance.

"The demand that we're seeing is so fierce," says Chris Havel, spokesman for state parks.

Sixteen "deluxe" cabins won't open in three state parks for another month, but they're already booked into July, says Havel. Constructed at Fort Stevens, Cape Lookout and Prineville Reservoir, the cabins each measure 16 by 24 feet and are designed to sleep up to five people. A complement to the state parks' beloved yurts, the cabins appeal to park visitors who either lack camping equipment or don't feel comfortable outside the confines of four walls, says Havel.

"(Needing) that tent or that RV can sort of be a barrier for people."

State parks' "rustic" cabins afford heating, lights and electrical power in one or two rooms furnished with beds, tables and chairs. Deluxe cabins boast a bathroom with shower, kitchenette with sink, refrigerator and microwave, plus a television with DVD player in the living room. Renters of both rustic and deluxe cabins bring their own bedding, dishes, utensils and towels.

Making overnight stays easier at state parks is just one purpose for cabins, instituted with state lottery funds just a decade ago. Attracting visitors to parks year-round is the state's other goal, says Havel.

"People don't like being holed up all winter."

Widely available in winter and spring, state parks cabins are cheaper to rent in off-seasons. Per-night fees vary from $85 for deluxe cabins, $39 for rustic ones, in the high season to $62 for deluxe rentals October through April. Reservations and full information are available at www.oregon.gov/OPRD/PARKS/cabins.shtml.

The new, deluxe rentals opening this year bring the number of cabins to 90 in 14 state parks, including Alfred A. Loeb on the Chetco River near Brookings and Cape Blanco near Port Orford. Other parks with cabins are near Astoria, Banks, John Day, La Pine, Ontario, Pendleton, Salem, Tillamook and Winchester Bay.

Closer to the Rogue Valley, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has 10 recreation rentals scattered among remote and comparatively accessible locations. What some lack in material comforts, they make up with sweeping vistas and historical charm.

"They're really part of an earlier era with the Forest Service," says John Borton, forest recreation program manager for Rogue River-Siskiyou.

The circa-1929 Big Elk Guard Station, the area's newest rental, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The oldest continuously used administrative site within the national forest, the rustic cabin is the last remaining example of Forest Service log construction, serving for many decades as summer headquarters for solitary "guards" who built trails, fought fires and patrolled the forest on horseback. The site most recently housed seasonal fire crews. It now supplies guests with electricity and modern kitchen facilities, but no water.

Situated between Howard Prairie and Fish lakes in the High Cascades Ranger District, Big Elk's rental season is May 20 through Oct. 31 for a per-night fee of $50. Mid-week days throughout summer are still available.

Also booked much of the summer, Bolan Mountain Lookout near Cave Junction is one of the most popular rentals with an 82-percent occupancy rate during its short season from mid-July to the end of September. Only the barest essentials complement Bolan Mountain's 360-degree views of the Siskiyou and Kalmiopsis wilderness areas, Red Buttes, Preston Peak and the Illinois River Valley. Guests must pack in water for drinking, cooking and washing and provide their own camp stove, cookware, dishes and utensils. The fee is $40 per night.

Seasons and length-of-stay restrictions vary, and full site descriptions can be found at www.fs.fed.us/r6/rogue-siskiyou/recreation/rentals/index.shtml. The U.S. Forest Service pioneered its recreation rental program in the 1990s and gained government authorization of rental fees to maintain facilities. In 2005, a nationwide registry was created for forest properties. Visitors can reserve by calling 1-877-444-6777 or at www.recreation.gov.

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