From hazard to kayakers' haven on the Rogue?

Mapping of Rogue River near Mugger's Rock is first step toward whitewater course envisioned by a Gold Hill man
Pete Gruendike of River Design Group, left, and Covey Baack of Gold Hill move a slalom gate from a whitewater course Wednesday as they map the bottom of the Rogue River.

GOLD HILL — Rafters and kayakers know this gnarly and dangerous Rogue River whitewater rapid as Mugger's Alley, and its main feature — Mugger's Rock — for a reason.

"That's where you flip and get mugged," says Steve Kiesling of the nearby Gold Hill Whitewater Center.

But take a little dynamite to Mugger's Rock and anchor some well-placed concrete faux-boulders to the Rogue's bedrock, and Kiesling sees Mugger's Alley becoming a whitewater haven that would draw kayakers from across the globe to recreate, compete and even train for the Olympics.

"With a little bit of shaping, it goes from something that nobody runs into a world-class course," Kiesling says. "We could have world-class events here.

"Making waves isn't that difficult," Kiesling says.

The ambitious idea of creating a whitewater course in this stretch of the Rogue took a step forward this week when river experts began mapping the Rogue streambed and water depths in and around Mugger's Alley.

The mapping will give course designers a blueprint of what structures are currently in the rapids and where adding rock or removing it would create the gurgling features desired by boaters with varying whitewater abilities.

"It's the first stage toward the reality of filling in the details," says Kiesling, a former Olympic canoeist who owns the land on the rapid's south side.

But this is not the 1920s of famed Grants Pass boater Glen Wooldridge, who simply blew up Rogue boulders that were in his way while navigating the Rogue's more treacherous reaches.

Adding or removing rock from the Rogue requires state and federal permits that come only after various agencies review the proposals for their potential impacts on everything from water quality to fish passage and navigability.

Compounding the process for Kiesling's plans is that the stretch is part of an area designated as critical habitat for the Rogue's wild coho salmon, which is protected as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The project would require permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Oregon's Department of State Lands, both of which would consult with state and federal fish biologists about whether the proposal would illegally harm wild salmon if allowed.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife would be asked to review any state permit application, while NOAA-Fisheries biologists would be consulted on any Corps permit application.


Biologists from both organizations say they are familiar with Kiesling's concept of a whitewater park, but its viability hinges on exactly what he seeks permission to do and what impacts those proposed actions would have on the Rogue and its wild denizens.

"It's high-quality whitewater in that area in its current state," says Dan VanDyke, ODFW's Rogue District fish biologist. "It seems like a logical plan.

"The devil will be in the details," VanDyke says.

One step in clarifying those details occurred Monday and Tuesday when the Corvallis-based River Design Group used sonar and GPS devices to map the riverbed's exact contour and current depths.

The work cost about $10,000 and was paid for by the city of Gold Hill, with help from Southern Oregon University's outdoor program, Sawyer Paddles & Oars in Talent, SOTAR, a Merlin-based whitewater equipment company, and several individuals in the local kayaking community, Kiesling says.

The designer of the proposed course has not been chosen at this point, but Kiesling says he would like to see it done by River Design Group, which conducted the studies and designs for removing Gold Ray Dam and the Gold Hill diversion dam last decade.

While salmon swim through that part of the Rogue at various times of the year, Muggers Alley is not the kind of rapid where spawning salmon dig their redds and lay their eggs. Kiesling, therefore, hopes any design will pass the scrutiny of fish biologists.

Kiesling says he would like to see the park designed, permitted and in place before mid-August, when he plans another series of whitewater races there called King of the Rogue. The first of those races was held in September.

If completed, the park would include "play waves" for kayakers to surf in, slower-water portions for beginners, as well as a slalom course and the run through Mugger's Alley, but with a re-engineered substitute for Mugger's Rock.

"By removing that rock it will make a really safe wave there," Kiesling says. "That run will automatically be safe. We hope that's an easy process."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.



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