While traditional jet boat companies are hampered by diminished water below Grants Pass, a start-up with a smaller boat is running out of TouVelle State Park.
TOUVELLE STATE PARK — One thing Taylor and Emily Grimes learned quickly in launching Rogue Jet Boat Adventures in 2011 was to be nimble, both in the captain's chair and charting the course for their company.
Even as the adventures began, the river itself was in transition because of downstream dams that had been recently removed. With those changes, however, came an opportunity to explore and explain the history and workings of the region's chief waterway.
"Our greatest obstacle in starting up has solely been securing a permanent commercial location," Emily Grimes said. "We have moved our location four times in the past four years, which for obvious reasons is not ideal. You have to really believe in what you're doing, have the energy and resources to keep pushing through the rough patches, and know how to roll with the punches."
An agreement with Oregon State Parks has helped the jet boat firm triple its ridership this season.
"Our section of the Upper Rogue is extremely limited with commercial properties," she said. "There are two, to be exact, and the first commercial property did not work out for us because of an easement issue. The possible long-term relationship with the state out of TouVelle State Park is ideal for both parties."
Even so, it's one thing to promote the operation and another to be visible when patrons arrive.
"We're boarding on the south side of the river at TouVelle," Grimes said. "But people automatically go to the boat ramp side."
As drought and diminished flow issues create questions for larger jet boat operations farther west in Josephine County, the smaller 10-passenger craft used in Rogue Jet Boat Adventures' daily excursions has had little trouble navigating between Rattlesnake Rapids and the site of the former Gold Ray Dam.
"Our business depends on adequate water levels, which we have no control over," she said. "If you look at the data the (flow levels) are a little bit lower, but it has been so much better than we expected compared to last year at this time and we can still operate with much lower water levels."
The Grimes' 30-river-mile, 2½-hour Discovery Tour details Native American and early settler history around the Table Rocks and points out celebrity retreats over the years. The journey includes a stop at Salmon Rock beneath Lower Table Rock. Wine tours take longer and include overland shuttles to Central Point's "Artisan Corridor" for visits to Ledger David Cellars, Rogue Creamery and Lillie Belle Farms chocolate factory before the cruise and a jaunt to Kriselle Cellars on Modoc Road afterwards.
Although there has been growth each season, the motorized nature of the operation has drawn some criticism from competing interests, Grimes said.
"From the very beginning we have had unbelievable support from the community and we didn’t expect that," she said. "There is a fear that we will take over the river like Hellgate has downstream."
The Grimes plan to add a second boat, capable of carrying 18 passengers, next year. But the nature of the river precludes anything on the scale of the 75-passenger boats seen downstream.
Emily Grimes said the company is requesting that Oregon Department of Transportation add a Rogue Jet Boat Adventures reference to its signage for 2015.
The Grimeses hope to round up support in an effort to preserve the history of the Table Rock area, including creation of interpretive kiosks and an information center.
"We have established many good relationships with the tribes that once inhabited the area," Emily Grimes said. "It has been a slow process and we are still working towards that goal. Major events that shaped our state happened right here on the banks of the Upper Rogue. Much history has been forgotten or purposely hidden and we think it is very important to preserve it."
Reach business reporter Greg Stiles at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 541-776-4463.