Woahink Lake is located on the central Oregon coast south of the city of Florence and about three miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Its southern end lies adjacent to US Highway 101, so that it is seen by all travelers on this major arterial. The lake basin owes its origin to the fluctuations in sea level that accompanied the latter stages of the Pleistocene Epoch, alternating periods of submergence and emergence of the coastal zone (Cooper 1958). During periods of submergence, the mouths of coastal streams were inundated by the higher water level. Many small streams lacked the erosive ability to prevent the obstruction of their mouths by sediment impoundments. Woahink Lake, lying on a marine terrace, was formed in this manner. The stream system that was inundated to form the lake basin was probably a tributary of the ancestral Siltcoos River. The water surface of Woahink Lake is 38 feet above mean sea level, and the bottom at its deepest point is 74 feet deep, or about 36 feet below sea level, the lowest of any of the sand-dune dammed lakes on the Oregon coast. Thus, the Woahink Lake basin is a deep, steep-walled crypto-depression.
Woahink Lake exhibits the characteristic dendritic, or branching, pattern of an impounded water body, whether it be an artificial impoundment or natural. Three large, partially isolated arms are fed by tributaries from the north and east; the longest of the three is only about three miles in length. The lake empties southward into adjacent Siltcoos Lake through the Woahink Creek outlet. The total drainage basin is only 7.4 miles in area, 16.6 percent of it covered by the lake itself. Thus the hydrologic retention time is relatively long. The small drainage basin is, for the most part, covered with a coniferous forest and receives approximately 80 inches of precipitation annually. Adjoining the lake on the west side is a series of dune complexes, including a large active dune to the southwest which is very apparent along the west side of the highway. This area is within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The eastern shoreline abuts the foothills of the Coast Range. Most of the basin consists of privately owned land and about 85 percent of the shoreline is also in private ownership. A number of lakefront residences, including both summer cabins and permanent dwellings, are located on the shoreline, most of them on the eastern side which is interlaced with a network of local roads. Most of these homes have been constructed since 1960 and some are on septic tanks and drain-fields.
The remainder of the shoreline, about 15 percent of the length along the northwest side, is within the Jessie C. Honeyman State Park. This is a 522 acre park which is an excellent nature sanctuary despite the large amount of development for recreational purposes. Dense growths of shrubs, three small lakes, the beach, and the forest provide food and habitat for a great variety of birds and mammals. A nationally endangered species of pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica) grows in the bog area within the park, and mixes with other typical bog species, such as sedges and water lilies. The bog’s water supply is maintained by several small creeks entering from the north and by a naturally high water table. The Nature Conservancy has identified the bog as a critical natural area in need of protection. Darlingtonia is now protected only in the Darlingtonia Botanical Wayside, and the pitcher plant will not last long as a species if this protected site remains as small as it is. A larger bog is needed to provide sufficient buffer for the population.
Honeyman State Park has long been extremely popular for outdoor recreation. Straddling the highway, the park essentially consists of two components – one adjoining Cleawox lake, the other adjoining Woahink Lake. At Woahink Lake there is a large picnic area in a lovely setting on the north shore. Two paved boat launches and a swimming area are available to visitors, and there is a large campground located west of the highway south of Cleawox Lake. Several species of fish are found in the lake, including warm–water species such as yellow perch and largemouth bass, and cold water species such as rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and kokanee. Some anadromous salmonids also enter the lake from Siltcoos Lake.
Woahink Lake is a warm, monomictic type by virtue of its single yearly mixing period which occurs in the winter. At that time water temperatures at any depth are never less than 39 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). In addition, the lake is stratified in the summer. Bottom material consists of muck in the deeper areas and mostly sand and gravel in the littoral areas. Macrophytes are present only in low numbers and in the shallow ends of the arms; they are not a problem here as they are in so many other coastal lakes. The predominant macrophyte species is Myriophyllum. Water quality in the lake is very good.
An Airport in Dunes City?
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) for decades has designated Lake Woahink as a seaplane base. It has been said that seaplanes landed here as early as 1912.
One of the early pioneers was Floyde Doland. He was flying on a trip from California to Florence, when he looked down and saw Woahink Lake right next to Hwy 101. He determined that he could start a business selling seaplane rides to the tourists. He found a Piper Super Cub on floats for sale and borrowed $7500 from a friend. He soon had a booming business. It was 1966. He soon paid the loan off and was not only giving rides to tourists but began giving flying lessons. Many pilots earned their seaplane rating here.
For many customers, their seaplane ride was the thrill of their vacation. A favorite trip was to fly along the beach, see the rugged surf, the Sea Lion Cave and wave to the visitors at the Lighthouse. It they were lucky they could see pods of whales as they migrated south. After hundreds of trips, he recalls, one flight his engine quit . Using the skills he had learned and taught he landed successfully in the surf and pulled up safely onto the beach. That day his passengers got an extra thrill.
Lake Woahink was a convenient fuel stop for seaplanes on their way to or from Alaska. There was a variety of planes to be seen from tiny homebuilts to twin Grumman Widgeons. It seemed that there were flights comimg in daily.
The pilots had great tales to tell of their adventures in the remote wilds of Alaska and Canada, of dangers and of close calls in weather and terrain that had no rescuers, and of landing where no one had ever landed -fishing and hunting where no one had ever fished or hunted.
Occasionally a neighbor might complain about the noise of planes taking off. Floyde would give them a free ride. The thrill and beauty of the scenery usually won them over.
Over the years, several lakeside residents, who were pilots, bought their own seaplanes. This an ideal area to fly, as there are dozens of remote lakes and rivers from which to land and takeoff. All are within minutes of Woahink Lake.
On at least two occasions, seaplane clubs held a fly-in on the lake. There were over 20 seaplanes gathered around the shores of Honeyman Park. What a sight!
Doland retired and sold the business. Subsequent owners sold out leaving an empty hanger. Occasionally planes still land here. (2012). It is a beautiful sight and stirs the memories of many adventures that began at the Lake Woahink Airport years ago.