When Rick Brown joined Rogue Rowing, then known as Ashland Rowing Club, in 2015, he knew that if he did his job right, the organization would need to add to its facilities to meet demand.
Two years later, Brown, who became Rogue Rowing’s first paid employee when he was hired as its executive director and head coach, has done his job so well that the rowing club is moving forward with plans to add a $3.5 million boathouse. It's tentatively scheduled to be built near Emigrant Lake Park by spring of 2018 — and the project has already received its first major contribution, and endorsement.
Jackson County commissioners voted Feb. 2 to commit $100,000 to the project, according to Rogue Rowing President and Treasurer James Adams — $50,000 to help with planning and $50,000 for in-kind services such as electricity and water.
“I’m thrilled because this has been in the works for several months,” Adams said. “We got the support of the Economic Development Committee and the commissioners, and that means a great deal to us because it means that Jackson County sees us as a partner in what is essentially a community program to bring new revenue and opportunities to Jackson County. That will help us enormously in moving forward with our fundraising and bringing the whole project to fruition. It’s wonderful news.”
Brown, who has helped Rogue Rowing double from 100 members three years ago to about 200 now, agreed.
“We were very hopeful,” he said. “It seemed like what the county was looking for … really fit well. ... It seems like such a win-win situation for everybody involved — the county, in addition to our organization and all the users of Emigrant Lake.”
According to a plan prepared for Jackson County by Rogue Rowing, the new boathouse will be 23,000 square feet and will generate $1 million in annual income — “and perhaps twice that amount” — along with 20 “well-paid” jobs initially. Full-time staff positions that will need to be filled include coaching, outreach, program development, management, event management, facilities upkeep, directorship and accounting.
The boathouse will allow Rogue Rowing to host up to two regattas a year, each of which could draw 500 to 1,000 visitors, Brown estimated.
“We have so much going for us in terms of it being such a great location, outside of the rowing side of things, too,” Brown said.
The boathouse will be used for rowing, sailing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, and Adams said its arrival will not interfere with existing motorboat and fishing enthusiasts.
“We have good relationships and we plan to keep it that way,” he said.
Tom Sisul, a Rogue Rowing board member and civil engineer, will oversee the planning process and management of the construction project. Before construction begins, however, Rogue Rowing, which has $600,000 worth of assets and an annual budget of $400,000, must raise over $3 million.
“We will be approaching foundations and community leaders who have a history of supporting projects that benefit the community," Adams said. "It’s a task, obviously, but we’re approaching it with the sense that with a thing of this size, I think it would be very hard to find something that is of such enormous benefit financially, from a jobs perspective and for the community as a whole. ... So I’m pretty confident that we will get the resources that we need to make it happen.”
Established in 1998 as an Ashland High School project for junior rowers, Rogue Rowing is long overdue for an upgrade, Brown said. Its current boathouse is a repurposed barn located on a leased corner of Corp Ranch and isn’t big enough to handle the organization’s growing business.
“We’ve outgrown our current boathouse and have boats stored outside of it,” he said. “So we’re currently over capacity where we are, so it’s pretty limited in terms of ability to grow. The need is certainly there already.”
The other downside to Rogue Rowing’s current boathouse, Brown added, is its location, which requires a short hike across Emigrant Lake Road in order to launch. That may not be a problem from some, but Brown doesn’t want rowing rookies turned off by what some may consider a major inconvenience, nor does he want rowers with disabilities to be forced to clear new hurdles before they even hit the water.
Where the boathouse ends up, however, has yet to be determined. Brown said the ideal location would be near the RV park and boat ramps, but all that must be negotiated, a process that could get complicated. The Bureau of Reclamation owns Emigrant Lake and leases it to Jackson County Parks.
“Then there are various people who have given grants to the lake, various government entities, over the years, and they all have things that need to be taken account of,” Adams said. “So this is going to be a process, but we see it as a partnership, and we will work through whatever issues there are together, which is as it should be.”
— Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.