TRAIL — Jess Huntley and his fellow students in Southern Oregon University's kayaking class learned Friday the best way to get around the federal government's ongoing shutdown is to duck.
With kayaks and paddles in hand, the students wiggled under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' locked gate barring access to the Cole Rivers Hatchery boat ramp and launched into the Rogue River as part of Friday's lesson.
The entire Corps property around Lost Creek dam and the hatchery is shuttered — kind of.
"What we're doing, technically, is trespassing?" asks Huntley, 21, of Ashland. "I didn't know that. But we're still going to go."
That's fine with the Corps' Rogue Basin staff, which isn't enforcing the closure. Do that at Crater Lake National Park, however, and expect to get a swift escort out.
Shutdown policies on access to federal lands and recreation facilities vary widely in Southern Oregon, where those violating closure rules are seeing vastly different reactions.
"It's all very random," says Rick Rockholt at Diamond Lake Resort, which remains open while all other facilities around the Douglas County lake are closed by the Umpqua National Forest. "It's really up in the air. It seems entirely up to the individual forest."
For instance, the federal Bureau of Land Management barred access to the only two public ramps at Hyatt Lake east of Ashland with a gate. Same with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest's shuttering of all the ramps at Applegate Lake.
The Umpqua Forest, however, simply hung small signs at its two Diamond Lake ramps saying they're closed, but with no gates or chains blocking access.
"People are thinking they don't have to pay, but they're still using the boat ramps and parking lots," Rockholt says. "And as far as I know, no one's been hassled."
Forest Service and BLM forestlands in Southern Oregon remain open to access for hikers, elk and mushroom hunters. However, the Corps-controlled lands around Lost Creek and Applegate lakes as well as its sizeable holdings in the Elk Creek Basin near Shady Cove remain closed to all public access.
The Corps' Takelma Boat Ramp is closed at Lost Creek Lake, but the ramp at Stewart State Park remains open because it is under state parks control, says Jim Buck, the Corps' Rogue Basin operations manager.
Also closed is the road along the west bank of the so-called "Holy Water" fly-fishing impoundment between the dam and the hatchery, as well as Riversedge Park, the bathrooms, parking facilities and all river access points.
However, the agency so far has taken a laissez-faire approach to enforcement.
"The policy is Corps facilities are closed," Buck says. "We are not asking people who walk in to leave."
That's not the case at Crater Lake, where National Park Service rangers are catching about a half-dozen people a day trespassing into the park.
"People for the most part are cooperative and understanding," Chief Ranger Curt Dimmick says. "In some cases, though, they're actually moving the barrier and driving through.
"When we catch them, we turn them around and escort them out," Dimmick says.
So far, resorts have remained open and in operation under special-use permits despite permit administrators getting furloughed.
"We're just up here operating on our own without Forest Service supervision, which is how it usually is," Rockholt says.
Rumors of Diamond Lake Resort being forced to close soon because of no government oversight have surfaced, Rockholt says. He says that's not true, but he hasn't been able to verify that.
"I have no one to talk to," Rockholt says. "Everyone's on furlough and no one's made contact with us."
Even fish-cleaning station policies differ: They're open at Diamond Lake, closed at Hyatt Lake.
Friday's kayakers could have driven a half-mile downstream and launched legally at Casey State Park's ramp, which is open. But they chose the no-harm, no-foul approach to using the Corps' closed hatchery ramp.
"Nobody seems to know what's shut down, why and the specifics of it," says SOU kayaker Luke Renard, 21, of Medford.
As more students ducked beneath the gate, a white pickup truck motored through the group toward the Corps' offices at the dam's base.
For a second, Huntley thought the group was busted. But the truck's brake lights never turned on.
"Did you see that U.S. government truck drive by?" Huntley says. "This is supposed to be closed, but that guy didn't do anything."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.