Facilities: Park Along the Cowlitz Offers Freedom and Ease

Patty and Fred Dills

Patty and Fred Dills

Cascade Peaks Family Campground gives people an opportunity to take in the slow pace of the wilderness.

The owners, Fred and Patty Dills, are a kindly couple in their 70s, who rather than rest on their laurels in their twilight years, decided to purchase the 83-acre RV resort about three years ago and turn it into a true campground. Even though they could have relaxed in their later years, buying a campground was a longtime dream for Patty.

“We’ve had questions about our sanity,” she said with a smile.

Patty Dills, who owns Cascade Peaks Campground with her husband, Fred, walks behind the front desk of the main office on Saturday afternoon east of Randle.

Patty Dills, who owns Cascade Peaks Campground with her husband, Fred, walks behind the front desk of the main office on Saturday afternoon east of Randle.

The couple lives in the little town of Moxee, just a few miles outside of Yakima, but make the trip over White Pass on a regular basis to the campground between Randle and Packwood. When their children were small, they stayed in this campground, but it had been decades since they spent time at one.

“I despise RV parks. They’re parking lots to get you off the freeway,” Patty said. “We’re trying to make it where people can do what they want.”

Fred and Patty Dills laugh while talking about becoming owners of the Cascade Peaks Campground while sitting in the office on Saturday afternoon east of Randle.

Fred and Patty Dills laugh while talking about becoming owners of the Cascade Peaks Campground while sitting in the office on Saturday afternoon east of Randle.

To make good on that, the couple has taken down about 50 signs that dictated the dos and don’ts of the property, and started keeping the pools and buildings open around the clock. The couple also has a sour taste for the narrow check-in and check-out times of hotels, so they did away with those at their own campground.

“If you want sit around to have lunch or something, it kind of ruins your day,” Fred said.

Patty Dills, who owns Cascade Peaks Campground with her husband, Fred, points to a map of where the Cowlitz River has eroded away at their property on Saturday afternoon east of Randle.

Patty Dills, who owns Cascade Peaks Campground with her husband, Fred, points to a map of where the Cowlitz River has eroded away at their property on Saturday afternoon east of Randle.

The couple said the campground has the only coin-operated laundry between Naches and Chehalis, and also has a stable of showers available for the public. The main building has more than a dozen empty sales offices left over from when the place was an RV resort community back in the 70s. Now, the couple plan to turn the building into a hostel for travelers who want something besides a hotel. They’ve also installed several tetherball poles and are putting the finishing touches on a disk golf course near their undeveloped camping areas.

Campers meander around the Cowlitz River on Saturday afternoon at Cascade Peaks Campground east of Randle.

Campers meander around the Cowlitz River on Saturday afternoon at Cascade Peaks Campground east of Randle.

The place is beautiful and peaceful, but the work hasn’t come easy. Of the more than 700 camp sites that used to exist, Patty said she’s counted about 550 that still remain. The 2006 Cowlitz River flood caused significant damage to the property. The river migrated roughly a quarter mile to the south of the valley, taking out a couple roads and roughly a third of the campsites.

After the waters receded, the two swimming pools were full of mud. In the last couple years, they’ve redone the walls in some of the buildings. They found rotten wood and several inches of wet silt built up between the studs.

A salmon writhes in shallow water along the Cowlitz River after spawning.

A salmon writhes in shallow water along the Cowlitz River after spawning.

“The (main office) was the only building that didn’t have more than 4 feet of water in it,” Fred said.

Marks from the flood are all around the campground, literally. There are several black high water lines near the apex of the shed belonging to Russ and Margie Trentlage.

“We sat and watched the trees fall into the river,” Margie said.

The Trentlages have owned a site at the campgrounds for a little over a decade. Their property, complete with landscaping, a sprinkler system and soon a 50-foot putting range, is as well manicured as anyone’s front yard. They deal with new floodwaters running into their area every year, but that doesn’t halt their progress.

“You’re up here to relax, we’re workaholics, but that’s our problem,” Russ said.

The quality of each campsite varies from nestled into the trees to out in the middle of an area called the meadow, where elk are known to frequent. We were fortunate enough to snag a shady secluded spot. With as much ground as we covered yesterday we decided to stay another night.

By Dameon Pesanti / dpesanti@chronline.com