The removal of Gold Ray, Gold Hill and Savage Rapids dams on the Rogue River has created recreational opportunities that in turn could create jobs in Jackson County.
That was among the findings of an economic study of new opportunities on the river that was released this week.
Dam removal didn't merely alter the flow of the Rogue River, it potentially changed the course of the surrounding area's economic future.
"We have a world-class recreational asset and there is room to take advantage of it," said Alec Miller, who authored the study for REMI Northwest, a Medford-based consulting firm. "The Lower Rogue rafting industry in the Wild and Scenic section below Grants Pass generates 400 jobs and we have the opportunity to create a recreation hub, spinning off other activities."
While recreation is a major lifestyle component in Jackson County, the relative concentration of recreation industries is less than half that of comparable counties such as Josephine, Klamath and Deschutes, said Miller.
The study detailing the post-dam-removal economic opportunities was prepared earlier this year and updated this week by REMI Northwest for local economic development and tourism officials and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Outdoor recreation — from fishing to running — generates more than $200 million in Southern Oregon, but the area where the Gold Ray and Gold Hill dams stood produces "essentially zero" of that, Miller said.
He estimated the area surrounding the former Powerhouse Falls — now known as Ti'lomikh Falls — could produce between $6 million and $7 million annually within a half-dozen years by catering to kayakers and other recreation buffs.
"When there are kayaks, it enhances rafting, bicycling and hiking," Miller said. "Outdoor recreation sports in general come together. Enhancing our lifestyle automatically enhances the visitor and recreation industries."
The REMI report is music to the ears of Steve Kiesling, a magazine editor and former Olympian who has advocated for the development of a whitewater kayaking park on the Rogue River near Gold Hill.
"The potential is huge," said Kiesling, who owns property near where the park could be developed. "The whitewater park is the center piece of all that. It's a world-class venue in what is already recognized as world-class salmon habitat. All these things add up and we're just waking up to the possibilities."
Kiesling notes the success of the $38 million man-made National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C. The Gold Hill area would have one big advantage over the North Carolina site, however: Nature has already done the vast majority of the work and once the Rogue rolled unrestrained through the area, the opportunity only improved.
"It's become clear that a lot of the course already exists," Kiesling said. "There's a lot of work that just doesn't have to be done."
He has already designed a park — highlighted in the study — that he says could be completed for between $600,000 and $2 million.
Kiesling said the amusement park-like whitewater courses in Charlotte generate ticket sales of $10 million annually.
"They pay $50 per head to go down an artificial version of the same run we have here," he said. "Will people pay money to go down a real one?"
For about $6,000, Kiesling says, that question could begin to be answered this summer.
"At a simple level, Gold Hill can open their side of the river to all types of activities for about $6,000 — $3,000 for a parking lot and $2,000 will open up trails on the other side," he said. "ODOT might have some permitting fees beyond that."
Kayaking and rafting are the leading edge of what could follow.
"Gold Hill is trying to turn itself around," Kiesling said. "The whole town is faced away from the river. Now they are realizing the river is what we have."
With floaters putting in at Shady Cove and paddling as far as the coast, Gold Hill makes for a good interim stopover.
Gold Hill acquired Ben Hur Lampman Park with an eye on providing camping opportunities for river users.
"The thinking at the sports park is the same way — how to make money from river traffic," Kiesling said. "People will be making multi-day trips, away from the limitations of the Wild and Scenic area downstream."
Another focus area of the report is Lower Table Rock, looming over the former Gold Ray Dam site. The Table Rocks are mentioned in America's Great Outdoors report, heralded by President Obama.
The bowl on the western slope containing oak savannah and panoramic views are the site of proposed campgrounds, trails and picnic areas. The nearby section of the Rogue previously has seen little use due to the presence of Gold Ray Dam and limited access.
"Hunters and wildlife watchers have been enthusiastic users of the former reservoir," the report states. Lower Table Rock has the potential to create crossover attractions for visitors and newcomers to river sports.
For example, thousands of people making the two-mile hike up Lower Table Rock might choose to continue on to state- and county-owned lands surrounding the former Gold Ray dam site, if access were available."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.