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Pete Newport, owner of Sawyer Paddles and Oars, takes on Muggers Alley rapid on the Rogue River near Gold Hill Friday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Rapid ramp-up

GOLD HILL — Backers floating a proposed world-class whitewater park in Gold Hill hope to turn their ideas into actual designs this fall as they begin crafting where and how to add whitewater features to a Rogue River rapid near city limits.

The Gold Hill Whitewater Park took a big step closer to reality this week when the Oregon Legislature agreed to give organizers $90,000 toward an engineering study needed to design how to transform the former Powerhouse Rapids stretch into a whitewater park and training center.

Armed with an additional $20,000 Oregon Community Foundation grant, the group will finish mapping the riverbed in a dicey whitewater rapid called Muggers Alley near Ti'lomikh Falls. Denver-based whitewater park designer Rick McLaughlin will use computer modeling and three-dimensional imaging to determine how to enhance the rapids' features to include big waves and river flow patterns championed by kayakers, rafters and now even stand-up paddleboarders.

"We've talked about it as concepts for a long time," says Steve Kiesling, a Gold Hill whitewater enthusiast who is spearheading the effort. "All this jumping up and down has gotten us some traction. Now it's time to dial it in and see what's possible."

Kiesling says those designs will be floated during a fundraising campaign and be vetted by local, state and federal agencies who must approve the project before the roughly $1.2 million worth of construction can take place, which he hopes will be in summer 2017.

The general fund grant from the Legislature was detailed in Senate Bill 5507, which legislators passed last weekend and awaits Gov. Kate Brown's signature.

It was offered as part of the Southern Oregon Regional Solutions Advisory Committee's recommendations added to that bill, southwest regional coordinator Jeff Griffin says.

Most of the regional solutions projects proposed in the bill were funded, and the whitewater park also has strong support from the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, Griffin says.

A Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. study concludes that the park could bring $7 million annually to the local economy.

Kiesling says the design will look at permanently anchoring boulders in places such as Muggers Alley to direct water in ways that can create raftable features at multiple river levels.

It won't include movable or adjustable features, such as those in a $10 million park built into the Deschutes River in Bend that is scheduled to open later this summer, Kiesling says.

But it will look to create waves that allow kayakers to paddle into them and "surf" in the wave.

"What draws people are surfable waves, so we want to create at least two of them for people to do their tricks," Kiesling says.

McLaughlin designed the 1996 U.S. Olympic kayaking course and is tapped to design this one, which likely would include a slalom course.

"You don't want something that looks so scary nobody will run it, and you don't want to make it look so easy that people will jump in without life jackets," says Kiesling, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic rowing team.

Pete Newport, owner of Sawyer Paddles and Oars, believes the final design likely will include some subtle tweaking of an already excellent rapid in Muggers Alley, which Newport ran flawlessly Friday while practicing for today's King of the Rogue races there.

"It'll end up, I think, safer for the boaters, but I expect any changes, really, to be minimal," Newport says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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