"For those of us who knew him so long and intimately, it is difficult to imagine that everyone is not similarly endowed with fond and almost reverent memories about the man."
Ross Newcomb, a director of Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Commission, had just asked for construction bids on what would become Oregon's largest fish hatchery — a hatchery that would be named for his close friend, Cole Rivers.
Whenever the salmon are running, it is a good day to check out the fish ladder, the viewing platform and the holding ponds at Cole M. Rivers Fish Hatchery.
From Interstate 5, Exit 30, drive north on Highway 62 to milepost 29 at Casey State Park. Follow the signs and turn left onto Takelma Drive. Continue three-quarters of a mile to Cole M. Rivers Drive. Turn right and follow the road across the bridge to the hatchery.
Spring chinook salmon will be entering the hatchery any day now.
Few men have done as much good for the Rogue River and its salmon migrations as Cole Rivers had done in his short life.
Rivers' father came to Oregon in 1919. A former noncommissioned officer in World War I, he settled in Milwaukie with his widowed mother. Within a year, he married his childhood sweeheart from Wyoming, Flora Mae Smith, and their first child, Cole, was born a year later in 1921.
After graduation from Milwaukie's Union High School in 1939, Cole attended Oregon State University, where he studied fish and game management.
His nearly 25-year career with the Oregon State Fish and Game Commission, today's ODFW, began as a summer cook for a Rogue River survey crew in 1941. That's where he met Newcomb.
Newcomb and Rivers set up a systematic study of the Rogue with a detailed record-keeping scheme that helped the state make long-range fish-management decisions.
In 1943, Rivers moved to Grants Pass and assumed full responsibility for the study.
"It was then that he became 'Mr. Rogue River,' " said Newcomb. "He was at his best with people."
Rivers knew all the tricks of a district biologist. He could snoop under rocks, sample and count fish, and do everything else expected of him, but it was his friendships with ordinary people that helped him the most.
"He probably learned more about the river and its ecology by talking to people than by performing the many chores that fall to the lot of a biologist," said Newcomb.
By 1956, Rivers calculated that since his study began in 1943, salmon runs had decreased in spring by 62 percent and in summer by 77 percent.
He said the biggest contributors to the loss were the Savage Rapids Dam and unscreened water diversions for irrigation.
Fish were suffering internal hemorrhaging from the rapid release of pressure as they passed in and out of the dam's turbines. Some were being pumped into dry fields while others were mutilated in irrigation pumps.
Rivers began a screening program and followed it with large releases of fish in hopes of restoring the river to its former glory as the most famous steelhead stream on the Pacific Coast.
He would never see his dream come true. His health began to deteriorate, and in 1966, at age 45, he died.
At the June 20, 1973, dedication of the Cole M. Rivers Fish Hatchery, Gov. Tom McCall remembered Rivers and his "20 dedicated and innovative years."
"His dream is coming to fruition," McCall said. "The waters of this stream that he treasured so much and knew so well — and his hatchery — will provide new and vigorous numbers of fish to populate the entire Rogue Basin."
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.