A Boater's Lake of Presidential Proportions
By Ann Dermody
For more than 9,000 years, the powerful Columbia River has drawn people to its waters for survival and sustenance. Now, Washington's man-made Lake Roosevelt — which makes up a large part of its tract — is a magnet for visitors, thanks to endless boating, fishing, camping, and hunting possibilities
With a surface area of 80,000 acres and a shoreline of 600 miles, boaters can lose themselves for weeks in the pristine beauty of Lake Roosevelt. Dreamed up during the height of the 1930s Depression, the Grand Coulee Dam was built in 1941 as part of a project to irrigate desert areas of the Pacific Northwest, and for the production of electricity. The reservoir the dam created, at times controversial with the large numbers of American Indians in the area, was given the name of the time's most influential president. Today the lake covers 125 square miles, stretching from 25 miles below the Canadian border all the way to the Grand Coulee Dam in the south, making it the largest lake and reservoir in Washington.
For veteran Lake Roosevelt park ranger Beth Lariviere, tooling around the waters of the lake in a Boston Whaler is an everyday way of life. Lariviere has worked for the National Park Service (NPS) for 24 years, always in boating parks, and has been at Lake Roosevelt for the past 18 of those.
As well as being a law enforcement officer, she's the Pacific Northwest regional coordinator for the NPS boating program, a motorboat operator certification course instructor, and a teacher of the instructors for the same certification course. Few know the rivers, creeks, and crannies of the lake better than she does. Not surprisingly, given that she spends all day on the lake, she and her family of two boys and husband Mike tend to stay away when they're planning vacation time. "We don't spend a lot of time at the lake because it feels too much like work to me," she says. But that doesn't mean Lariviere is anything short of enthusiastic for the great amenities in which visiting boaters can indulge at Lake Roosevelt.
"The south end of the lake has a great sagebrush desert-like feel, with the Coulee Dam being the obvious big highlight for visitors," she says. "The north end has pine trees and Hawk Creek, which has a waterfall near the campground. Beach camping is terrific and there are numerous boat-in campgrounds. Usually, if you're camping by boat, we'd require a marine sanitation device. However, if you camp at one of the boat-in campgrounds, there are outhouses. Those sites also have picnic tables and fire rings, giving campers the option of a campfire, which is otherwise prohibited during the summer months."
With 22 ramps dotted around its perimeter, access to the water is easy for trailered boats from just about any part of the lake. Highway 25 runs along the east shore of the lake and along the west side of the Spokane River. An added bonus is that boaters can leave their trailers in car parks overnight if they want to camp at some of the various campgrounds.
"They'll just need a boat-launch permit visible on their windshield or dashboard if they're launching a boat," says Lariviere. "There's a $7 fee for a week of launching or you can buy an annual pass. Boaters can anchor for up to 30 days without a concession contract."
The lake also allows the use of PWCs, though there are more restrictive rules for them, and their use is banned on the Kettle River.
The most popular ramps are Fort Spokane, Kettle Falls, Porcupine Bay, and Hunters, according to Lariviere, who adds that some boat launches go out of commission during draw-downs that usually occur in the spring. Naturally these are the parking lots that get busier in the summer, too. While the lake is usually free of much traffic, due to its vast size, the Spokane River can get a little congested at times with boats. "The early spring can have shallow areas due to the draw-down, so it's best to get a chart and know the lake level beforehand," says Lariviere. To find out what the lake level is, visitors can check the park's website or call 1-800-824-4916.
For centuries before the creation of Lake Roosevelt, the area was a gathering place for the many native tribes that fished the rapids of the Spokane River, so it's no surprise fishing continues to be a huge draw for the lake. "Several tournaments take place here each year and fishing is very popular with the boating crowd," says Lariviere. "Although the water stays slightly cold in the summer, people do waterski and sailboard here, too." For more information on maps, lake elevations, boating regulations, and fees, visit: www.nps.gov/laro/planyourvisit/boating.htm
Reeling In The Walleye
George Allen knows a thing or two about fishing for walleye on Lake Roosevelt. The vice president of the 200-member Spokane Walleye Club has lived in the area for the past 50-odd years and says the lake is one of the club's prime places to fish. "Walleye are the main thing that our members fish for, but if they aren't biting, we'll fish for everything else," says Allen. Though walleye are not originally native to Washington, they certainly put on a fine performance here — not least of all at the dinner table.
Their flavor and larger portion size make them as much of a winner with those who like to eat as with those who like to fish. A good day of fishing can yield several two- or three pound walleyes, with some getting up to 10 pounds in weight. The record is an 18-pounder caught in April 1990.
Kokanee salmon and rainbow trout are also popular catches in Lake Roosevelt, and there's also a catch-and-release sturgeon fishery where the fish can get up to six, seven, or eight feet in length, according to Allen. "There's good walleye fishing in the lake year round, but the spring is probably best as the bigger fish are more accessible then."
The arms of Lake Roosevelt, which include the Spokane, Kettle, and Sanpoil Rivers, are closed through March and April for spawning. "Most of the fishing is done from boats," says Allen. "There are a few places where you can go to fish walleye off the shore, and there are lots of places that cater to the rainbow fishermen from shore, but catching walleye is probably done 90 percent from on the water."
Tournaments here can see 80 or 90 boats converge at a time. "Most of the boats are 18- to 20-footers and half of those would be Lund boats," says Allen. "The other 25 percent will be rangers, and then the rest are made up of assorted boats." Allen himself runs an 18.5-foot Lund. "People use their boats for other things besides fishing. There's waterskiing, a big fireworks display on July 4, and the big boats will all anchor up together to watch that weekend. In the upper reaches, there's pristine timber right down to the water. You've also got nice sandy beaches, casinos on one end, and year-round housing on the other side. All in all, it's a great place to live or visit: www.nps.gov/laro.
This article was published in Fall 2010 issue of Trailering Magazine.
Lake Roosevelt Highlights
Take A Hike: Well-mapped backpacking and day-hiking trails lead immediately from the lake at Fort Spokane, Spring Canyon, and Kettle Falls, giving great views of the lake and local terrain.
Pitch-A-Tent: There are 10 National Park Service campgrounds reachable by boat, most of which operate on a "first come, first served" basis. For fees and services available at the campgrounds, see the National Park Service website.
Roll The Dice:The Native American tribes bordering the lake operate Two Rivers Casino in Davenport, Washington, where the Spokane River meets Lake Roosevelt, and Coulee Dam Casino near the Coulee Dam.
Explore Your Roots: Kettle Falls Historical Center traces 9,000 years of human history in the area from Native American fishermen to white settlers.
Light Up The Night: Time your visit for the free laser light show that takes place to music at the Grand Coulee Dam during the summer. Tours of the dam are also available. www.grandcouleedam.com
Floating Your Home: Houseboat rentals let you get in some serious lake living without sacrificing modern luxury. Roosevelt Recreational Enterprises, the Lake Roosevelt Resort and Marina, and Two Rivers Marina all rent them.