A wide angle photo of a green river in the woods and two children at the edge.

Schafer hits 100 years as a state park

By Schafer Ranger, Angela Galli 

Schafer State Park may not be well-known, but the people who know it love it. I often hear from guests that they’ve been coming to the park since they were three years old! As our larger neighbor Lake Sylvia closes for summer construction, we’re hoping new campers discover this friendly, welcoming park between Olympia and the coast. 

People stand on a green river in the woods.
These anglers are hoping to catch dinner and fry it up in camp.

Catch and release 

Schafer is popular with anglers — many of our visitors fish for trout in the spring and salmon in fall.  

I don’t fish myself, but one of my most memorable park ranger stories involves “catching” a fish.  

The East Fork of the Satsop River had flooded, and I’d closed the day-use area because the parking lot was full of water. I was walking around the park to document the flood and keep an eye on things when I saw something splashing in the parking lot. As I walked up, I realized it was a salmon.  

Can you imagine? The river had flooded so heavily the fish had swum upstream into the lot. I tried to help it along, but it was too slippery, so I decided to scoop it up in a trash can and haul it to the river. It had come too far to die in a parking lot. I felt a little foolish and was glad no one was around to film it, but at least that salmon was able to continue its journey.  

Two young men stand on logs in a river with a bridge in the background in this historic sepia toned photo.
In this historic photo from 1938, two young men take their chances in a log-rolling competition on the Satsop. (Just to clarify, log-rolling is dangerous, and we don't host these events anymore!)

Rolling on the river 

Speaking of floods…if you talk with park rangers, you’ll find each of us deals with specific weather and terrain in our home park. For Schafer, it’s flooding. We’re in the Chehalis River Basin near Elma, and the Satsop River floods every year.  

My first year as ranger here, we had the worst floods recorded since 1935! The river scoured the campground road, leaving a trench three feet deep, three feet wide and nine feet long. The damage was extensive — not something I thought I’d experience as a state park ranger.  

New campground 

Luckily for all the folks who love camping at Schafer, we just finished building a brand-new campground this year, and it sits outside and above the flood plain!  

The new campground has thirty campsites, and all but the four walk-in sites have water and electric hookups. There’s also a brand-new restroom building in the campground and a new visitor center near the park’s entrance.  

A kitchen shelter in the woods with stone chimney

Depression-era architecture 

Since many of the existing buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, having been built in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), we made the new buildings with a similar river rock façade.  

If you’re a fan of WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps “National Park Service rustic” architecture, a picnic in one of our shelters is a must-do! 

A female park ranger with shoulder length brown hair in uniform
Ranger Angela Galli at Schafer

Centennial Commemoration 

This bend in the Satsop River was a gathering place long before we came to manage it, but in 2024 Schafer marks its centennial as a Washington state park.  

The Schafer Logging Company (which donated the land in 1924) used to hold elaborate company picnics in the park. The company used to dam the river for log rolling and other logging-themed competitions.  

We don’t dam up rivers or offer log rolling anymore, but we’re partnering with our beloved Friends of Schafer and Lake Sylvia (FOSLS) friends group to host a centennial commemoration event on Saturday, July 20, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  

A historic sepia toned photo of families at a picnic table outdoors
In the 1930s, community picnics were all the rage at Schafer. Come join our Centennial July 20!

We’ll have live music, a food truck, yard games, kids’ activities, historical displays, a raffle and square dancing. The event is family-friendly and free to the public.  

You can spend the day with us or make it a weekend and try the new campground. Though summer weekends tend to get busy, we are also part of a new same-day reservation pilot program (for all you last-minute planners out there).  

Either way, please come visit this season. Say hi, catch a fish and join us as we look forward to our next 100 years!  

A poster announcing the Centennial Commemoration for Schafer State Park with a river on it.

Originally published June 11, 2024

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