Smoke dethrones King of the Rogue until October

GOLD HILL — Heavy smoke from out-of-control wildfires ringing the Rogue Valley has caused a delay in the region's largest and most visible whitewater rafting races of the year.

The fifth annual King of the Rogue rafting and kayaking races planned for Saturday at the Rogue River's Ti’lomikh Falls outside of Gold Hill has been canceled and rescheduled for Oct. 14.

Race organizer Steve Kiesling from the Gold Hill Whitewater Center said air quality was far too poor for running the race. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has listed air quality as ranging from unhealthy for sensitive groups to hazardous for all for much of the past two weeks in the Rogue Valley.

"This course is hard enough to do the course when you can breathe," Kiesling says.

Pushing the event back to the second Saturday in October would place it on the same day that Sawyer Station in Gold Hill has its annual Drip Fest gear swap, which has become a popular annual event akin to ski swaps and other gear-bartering days.

"We'll have plenty of water in the Rogue and the guides will all be well rested and ready to paddle for fun," Kiesling says.

Before officially rescheduling earlier this week, Kiesling had to get the race's Oregon State Marine Board permit successfully changed.

The King of the Rogue races are on a set of the Rogue’s Class IV rapids testing racers’ mettle while having fun and raising awareness and support for a proposed world-class whitewater park envisioned there by Kiesling and others.

Paddlers will compete in various single and team events in both men’s and women’s categories in rafts, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.

Crowds can watch the races from vantage points off Upper River Road or Highway 234.

Each event draws around 60 kayakers and rafters as well as close to two dozen stand-up paddleboarders.

Bear Camp Road re-opens

Extreme fire danger in Southern Oregon at least has brought one piece of good news to outdoor recreationists: Bear Camp Road will reopen Friday.

This main backwoods thoroughfare for Rogue River rafters and anglers traversing the Siskiyous between Galice and Agness will open by Friday evening because the general shutdown of operations in the woods due to fire danger has halted Bear Camp Road construction work, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

"They cleaned up what they could to have the road relatively clean, but there's a lot of dust and not all of it is paved," said Chamise Kramer, spokeswoman for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. "It's not a completed project, but it's driveable."

The 7.5-mile stretch of Bear Camp Road, known on maps as Forest Service Road No. 23, has been closed to vehicle traffic to upgrade culverts to withstand log-truck traffic for a timber sale planned for this fall.

Road work will resume when fire danger ebbs, Kramer says.

Those who use the road in the interim, however, are urged to be extra cautious, Kramer says.

Bear Camp Road is a windy, single-lane, generally paved road with turnouts through the rugged Siskiyous. It is the preferred return route to Galice for those floating the Wild and Scenic Section of the Lower Rogue Canyon.

It is not maintained for winter travel.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or Follow him on Twitter at

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