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Table Rocks — from a jet boat

The demise of dams on the Rogue River has spawned new ventures, including a jet-boat operation launched from TouVelle State Park.

With the Rogue clear of most man-made obstructions between Rattlesnake Rapids and the erstwhile Gold Ray Dam area, Taylor Grimes envisions turning a 14-mile stretch of the Upper Rogue into a tourist draw.

Unlike Hellgate Excursions running downstream from Grants Pass, Rogue Jet Boat Adventures will run smaller boats, concentrate on more intimate outings and focus on Table Rocks history and ecology.

Grimes made a career move earlier this year, selling his interest in Microvellum Inc., a Central Point software company he co-founded.

"It was time to do something completely different," Grimes said. "I had been working on a business concept of creating a jet-boat adventure. I have been running the Snake, Salmon and Rogue for years, and it was time to turn my hobby and passion into a business."

To start off, Grimes has piloted a 22-foot, six-passenger boat. He plans to expand into a larger, 24- or 25-foot, 14-passenger craft next year.

"This section of the river demands smaller boats, so we will always be smaller and more personalized," he said. "You need to be more agile than the boats farther down the river."

He understands anglers, drift boaters and rafters might see a jet boat as an intrusion, so he has avoided adding to the strain by keeping noise levels down. He lined up all his Coast Guard certifications and permits and pushed off this spring. While large jet-boat operations are standardized, Grimes can throw some personal wrinkles into his trips.

"If you want to stop off at a gravel bar and look for agates," he said. "We're more flexible. We're not trying to be Hellgate."

Grimes plans to include an eatery on the route and add raft rentals in the future. The food element is more picnic-style for now, dropping passengers off for a 45-minute break beneath Lower Table Rock and serving local meat, cheese, fruit and bread.

The 21/2-hour trip costs $62 for adults and $45 for children under 12.

"The only way people can get these views of Table Rock is by boat," he said. "People are seeing a whole different area of the river they've never seen before."

As he skims along, Grimes rattles off local historical facts and tales about natives who occupied the Table Rocks region, Fort Lane and Gold Ray Dam.

"There is plenty of wildlife, too: mink, otter, beaver, osprey, bald eagles and blue herons. A lot of people don't know this area of the Rogue holds one of Oregon's largest blue heron rookeries."

One of the newer attractions for visitors, he said, is watching the mining activity that has emerged at the former Gold Ray Dam site.

"It's been at least 100 years since people mined for gold there," he said.

In mining the Rogue for another kind of payday, Grimes has pumped about $100,000 into the venture.

He started off by taking local hotel managers on the river earlier this summer and got just the response he wanted — hoteliers sending customers his way.

"We've got a much better response than I thought we would," he said. "So the focus has been better spent on the trips than the eatery or rafting; that will have to wait until winter."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.

Taylor Grimes leads a group on a jet boat tour past the Table Rocks on the Rogue River near TouVelle State Park Wednesday. - Jamie Lusch