Resource Manager Chad Stuart stands along side a stuffed black bear that is part of the displays inside the McGregor Park Visitors Center. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

The Rogue's 'hidden gem'

TRAIL — Chad Stuart strolls down one of McGregor Park's finely manicured pathways and over an arched wooden bridge before pausing atop at a large open deck beneath thick Douglas fir trees. Then he peers into the Rogue River side-channel gurgling beneath his feet.

"There's some evidence of our beaver," says Stuart, the Rogue Basin's recreation manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "On a sunny day you can see the juvenile salmon swimming in there next to that log."

What you won't see in McGregor Park, however, are crowds.

Some days you might not see anyone.

Despite top-notch picnic amenities, a playground and even fishing access to the upper Rogue, McGregor Park remains so far off the tourism radar screen that even vandals have yet to discover it.

Stuart and others are launching an effort to make this 16.8-acre park more widely known among the Corps' recreation and interpretive features on its holdings around Lost Creek Lake.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the park's 35-year-old visitor center will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily beginning today and running through Labor Day. The center also now includes updated displays about the Rogue Basin's dams and information about the park's flora and fauna as well as the nearby Cole Rivers Fish Hatchery.

The center will be staffed Fridays through Mondays by federal Bureau of Land Management employees, as it has since the BLM took over use of the center in 2003, Stuart says.

But a passel of volunteers will now staff the visitor center Tuesdays through Thursdays, allowing those who find the center a chance to learn more about the area.

Coupled with the new playground and guided nature hikes at 1 p.m. each Saturday, the park's new facelift and marketing strategy could at least double the 3,000 visitors who annually veer off Highway 62 and stumble upon the center.

Organizers hope the changes create an identity more vibrant than its wallflower past.

"The biggest thing is, it's not a destination place," says Molly Allen, who runs the environmental education program for the BLM's Butte Falls Resource Area and has been center coordinator for the past five years.

"People are either going to the hatchery, to the boat ramp for launching into the upper Rogue or they're headed to Crater Lake," Allen says. "And it's so hidden, that people don't even know it's there."

The center is named for former Josephine County Commissioner Donald McGregor, who was a major player in the local effort to get the Corps to build flood-control dams in the Rogue Basin during the 1950s and '60s.

It opened in 1977, the same year Lost Creek dam was completed, and has been renovated several times since then.

Initially, the Corps ran it daily through the summer until 1993, when it was shuttered amid budget cuts. It sat idle until the non-profit Spirit of the Rogue group took over and ran it until 2002.

The BLM has been a Corps partner at the site since 2003, with a four-day-a-week schedule and a fall environmental education program.

Until now, so little has changed there that it's much like a flashback into the '70s.

Two of the picnic areas still sport working built-in electric stoves. Visitors can use the free-standing barbecues and use is generally wide-open during its hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Even alcohol use is not restricted.

"About the only thing we don't allow is weddings," Stuart says. "Nobody wants to clean up after a wedding."

Stuart and other Corps employees have, however, cleaned up some of the visitor center's outdated displays.

Much of the Corps data in the center hadn't been touched since its opening, Stuart says. One display on the Corps operations in the Rogue Basin had incorrect information on how much of the watershed was affected by the construction of Lost Creek dam, he says.

Another referred to Elk Creek Dam being completed on Elk Creek, a major upper Rogue tributary. That dam was only half-built when environmental lawsuits halted construction in 1987. It was demolished three years ago.

"It was, basically, to a point of being embarrassing," Stuart says.

The displays now contain an interactive touch-screen computer to search for updated facts, some of the displays have new billboards and another screen has a string of photographs on a loop.

"We really want to make this a desirable place for people to come to," Stuart says. "It's kind of the hidden gem of the Rogue Valley, but people don't even realize it's here."

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

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