An idyllic riverside spot for pitching a tent under the wing, Jim Wright Airfield makes a splendid, peaceful overnight campsite for pilots. On one hot day in late July, we flew into Cottage Grove State Airport 61S (diagram at end of blog) and parked our plane on the lovely grass airfield, off the end of runway 33. With Row River (pronounced like “cow”) burbling and chuckling right next to our tent, we spent the day swimming in the river, picking an enormous amount of fat, sweet blackberries from the airport bushes, roaming the banks of the Row alongside the airport, and gathering wild mint to mix in with our camp-stove fried rice. When we were present, the “Deathmobile” replica from the 1978 movie Animal House was onsite at the airfield. Parts of Animal House had been filmed in Cottage Grove in ‘78, and the “Deathmobile” is stored in one of the hangars.We were also extremely lucky to meet Ron Englund at the airfield, one of the volunteers who helped Jim Wright build his H1-Racer Replica (H-2). Soft-spoken Ron gave us a delightful tour of Jim Wright’s hangar, the very place with the H-2 was built. Now filled with a fascinating mix of antique phonographs and H-1 Replica-building history, as well as several ongoing plane-building projects, the hangar is funded by Betty Wight, Jim’s widow. We felt privileged and humbled to be given an intimate tour of the incredible workplace where such an awesome plane had been built.
In 1935, Howard Hughes’ H-1 Racer set a Land Plane Speed Record (352mph) and in 1937 set a transcontinental record (L.A. to New York Non-Stop in 7hrs 28 min at 327 mph).
Jim first flew his stunningly beautiful full-scale H-1 Replica in 2002. The plane was so close to the original that the FAA granted it serial number 2 of the model. On August 4, 2003, Jim unveiled his replica at the 2003 AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Alas, on the way home, he fatally crashed just north of the Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. In December 2003, the Cottage Grove airfield was named after him. There’s a public museum near the airfield’s roadside entrance. Run by the Oregon Aviation Historical Society, the hangar museum boasts more than 6 pre-war Oregon home built aircraft that help to tell the story of experimental aircraft in the US. We toured the museum and David charmed them into allowing him to use their shower while I bought a t-shirt of Hughes’ H-1 Racer. (While there is a “Johnny-on-the-spot” outhouse for airplane campers back on the airfield, there’s no showers).Although we didn’t venture off the airfield because of all the river-swimming, blackberry picking, & hangar visiting we did on-site, Cottage Grove is well-known for its six historic covered bridges. There’s a very pretty bike route to them, the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway. Apparently, there is an airfield courtesy car available, and if you venture into town, bike rentals are possible from Rainy Peak Bicycles, (533 E Main,OR, Cottage Grove, 97424, tel: 541-942-8712). There’s also a scenic bike trail along the Row River. We’re already planning to fly back to Cottage Grove next summer and cycle these trails.
If you want to explore the town itself, there are 20 outdoor murals commemorating Cottage Grove’s history.Back near the airfield, there’s the 18 hole Middlefield Golf Course. If you don’t have a car, it’s within walking distance of runway 15, through a cosy little neighbourhood whose houses have backyard lawns leading right onto the airfield (no fences!) Further afield, there are several impressive waterfalls very close to each other in the Layng Creek Watershed– Moon, Pinard and Spirit Falls. Just a short drive from Cottage Grove, these spectacular falls can be reached by short hikes through mossy, wooded trails. Again, we are definitely returning for this! (photos plucked from the USDA gov website)
If you’re planning an under-the-wing camping stop at Cottage Grove, beware the Cottage Grove Speedway noise on Friday and Saturday nights! Racing is every Saturday night, April through September, KART racing on Friday nights, and racing starts at 6:30 or 7:30, depending on the event. Although the speedway isn’t that close to the airfield, by golly, you can certainly hear it loud and clear while snuggled in your tent. When we were there, the racing went until 10:30pm! The Racetrack phone number, if you wish to inquire about what nights they’re racing so you can avoid camping at the airfield on those nights, is: 541-942-7561