Rafting guide Arden Prehn, of Momentum River Expeditions in Ashland, leads Jim Kleckner, Denise Kleckner and Jennifer Kleckner down Nugget Falls on the Rogue River near Gold Hill Friday. - Jamie Lusch

Duckie Season

Last summer's removal of Gold Ray Dam from the Rogue River has created a host of new opportunities this summer for river-lovers who want to explore a stretch of water that's been largely off limits to floaters since the Teddy Roosevelt era.

For those seasoned in the paddling arts, it represents a chance to see how a river can redefine itself after being freed from a dam that constrained it for 106 years.

"We're no fans of dams, by any means," says Pete Wallstrom, owner of Momentum River Expeditions in Ashland. "So we're really excited about that stretch. It's new and, logistically, it makes for a nice day trip."

But less-seasoned rafters better be careful of what type of adventure they wish for.

The new-look stretch is rife with log jams and downed trees that could become formidable obstacles for causal boaters with little experience with paddles or oars.

"It's changing so much and it's changing every day," says Sgt. Tom Turk of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department Marine Program.

"The seasoned boaters are used to dealing with that," Turk says. "But the not-so-seasoned boaters — those with less experience who think it's going to be a nice and easy day trip — are the ones we're worried about."

As this week's 90-degree weather finally hits the Rogue Valley and ushers in the summer boating season, the newest Rogue stretch can be either a boon or bane.

For decades, rafters and driftboaters have largely avoided the five miles of water downstream of TouVelle State Park because Gold Ray Dam was an impassable barrier between the park and Fisher's Ferry — a small, undeveloped boat ramp off Gold Ray Road about a mile downstream of the dam.

Now, that stretch is open for navigation by the orange armada, also known as the rented, inflatable, Tahiti crowd.

But that stretch below TouVelle — particularly waters from the mouth of Bear Creek down to Fisher's Ferry — is wrought with woody debris, including whole trees still bearing branches along the surface.

These obstacles are dis-affectionately known as "strainers" because they can part a rafter from his boat dangerously, even lethally.

"There's a lot of strainers up there, and that's the biggest danger right now," Wallstrom says.

Those strainers are more troublesome this year because a dense snowpack and high summer runoff means the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be releasing 3,000 cubic feet per second of water from Lost Creek Lake through early August.

That's the highest sustained summer release in 13 years, conditions that casual rafters could find troublesome.

One driftboat has already been sunk by a strainer in the fast-chugging water, and the marine patrol has twice used logging contractors to cut away potential strainers before they could claim more victims.

"Holy smokes that's a lot of water," Turk says.

But perhaps the biggest danger lies past Fisher's Ferry.

Those who miss the ramp or expect a nice float to the next take-out spot at Gold Hill have some eye-popping obstacles in their paths.

That stretch contains some of the toughest whitewater rapids on the Rogue — Class III and Class IV rapids known as Powerhouse and Nugget falls, the bread-and-butter rapids for Momentum and other commercial outfitters whose guides regularly run them.

Nugget and Powerhouse are particularly dangerous to navigate, especially in inflatable rubber kayaks sometimes called "duckies."

"I've run it in a duckie, but you don't want to if you don't know what you're doing," Wallstrom says.

Those who don't have the experience may compound their trouble, because that stretch of water poses major access problems for rescuers who cannot use powerboats or driftboats to reach stranded boaters.

"That's what makes it real difficult for us," Turk says. "If someone's stranded down there, I'm not going to say they're on their own. We'll do what we can to help them, but it might take a while."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email

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