ALTOONA — On a steep hillside between two former Columbia estuary canning towns, Sol Mertz and his partners are busy creating an idyllic, edible garden for campers at the Rose Creek Retreat.
Most of the campground’s visitors come from Hipcamp, a nationwide online reservation network for private campgrounds launched in 2013 in San Francisco. Hipcamp recently expanded into Oregon, including two sites listed in the southeastern corner of Clatsop County.
“We got started early in Hipcamp,” Mertz said. “They believed in our concept, and we believed in their concept.”
Campers can rent three separate areas at the Rose Creek Retreat. The most popular is the Rose Garden, a landing above Altoona-Pillar Rock Road surrounded by edible plants. The site overlooks wildlife and passing ship traffic on the Columbia and comes with a yurt-like sleeping room and a fire pit.
Farther up the hill and hidden in the woods are more campsites set out along a small creek winding down to the Columbia. A short hike takes campers to a private tepee-like lean-to. Amid the ferns, firs and alder around the campgrounds are all types of edible plants, including several types of berries.
“It’s a forest garden of edibles,” Mertz said.
Most of the money made from campers goes back into restoring the land, and the 10 percent fee taken by Hipcamp covers advertising the campground to visitors from around the world, Mertz said. Along with fees to Hipcamp, the campground pays local lodging taxes.
Hipcamp now includes more than 3,500 private campsites, cabins, RVs, trailers, tree houses, yurts and other rentals covering roughly 7,000 acres of private land.
On the Long Beach Peninsula, two sites are listed — Little Woods near Oysterville and Beach Get-a-way east of Pacific Pines State Park.
Alicia Sprague, in Clatsop County’s taxation department, said staff have so far reached out to two campsites advertising through Hipcamp to collect the quarterly lodging taxes.
Both of Clatsop County’s sites are located on farms near Elsie along U.S. Highway 26. The proceeds from one supports Veganville, a nonprofit animal sanctuary.
Operators like Mertz are optimistic about what sites like Hipcamp can do to promote tourism in often economically depressed rural areas. Western Wahkiakum County had largely been written off economically since cannery towns along the Columbia disappeared, he claimed, but now the region is drawing people through its proximity to water and wildlife.
“It’s like an ecotourism renaissance,” he said.
Rose Creek Retreat
To access it, take Washington State Route 4 to Rosburg, Wash., turn right onto Altoona-Pillar Rock Road, and travel south about six miles on a winding forest road to the old cannery village of Altoona. Old cannery facilities in the area are privately own and trespassing is strongly discouraged.
For information: www.hipcamp.com