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Howard Prairie up for a makeover

ASHLAND — Patched together over more than 50 years, the marina at Howard Prairie Resort seems like a project even extreme makeover shows might shun.

The ramps, which are not up to snuff with the Americans with Disabilities Act, lead to weathered docks with splinter-a-minute planks. Some of the pilings that keep those docks in check sit atop bedrock and are so poorly braced with rebar it takes only  two fingers to move them.

"You can actually make it wiggle," says Steve Lambert, manager of Jackson County Parks Services, which owns and runs the marina.

No dockside sewage dump station means boaters must carry their portable toilets up the ramp to a suitable dump site that's been in place only one boating season at this popular reservoir east of Ashland.

"For years, they carried it over and dumped it where the RVs dump," Lambert says. "That's not good."

County officials wanting to do good for thousands of fishers and sailors who visit this hub of Howard Prairie activity are about to launch an effort to bring the marina's amenities into the 21st century.

They plan a complete redesign and overhaul of the docks, ramps and other facets of the marina that have been serving lake users since 1962, and possibly even expanding and moving the docks into deep water so they aren't lying unusable on mud flaps in drought years like this one.

This spring the county will seek bid proposals on the design and engineering of the new facility, which could be up and running in three or four years.

Preliminary estimates place the overall cost at roughly $1.5 million to $2 million, depending upon the design features, Lambert says. The county has set aside $100,000 for the design and engineering phase, and that's matched by a $100,000 grant from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which built the lake and the marina.

Once designed, the county will seek grants from the Bureau of Reclamation and Oregon State Marine Board to make it happen.

When completed, the new-look marina won't be smaller and might not be larger because the county wants to ensure good use of the space available. It might not even look like the current "wish list" early draft drawing that would move the entire marina from the south side of the boat ramp to water 15 feet deeper on the north side of the ramp.

Lambert says he'd ultimately like to add more slips for overnight moorage, which is popular during peak spring and fall fishing seasons.

"We don't want to go less than what we have, but it's all cost-driven," Lambert says.

And Lambert hopes the future marina will include a waterside sewage pump station so boaters don't have to make that tenuous trek with their portable toilets anymore.

"We have old facilities," Lambert says. "The marina pretty much has outlived its lifespan. It's time to provide what the boaters want to see here."

While boaters are largely behind the effort to improve docks that qualify for AARP cards, the county is also interested in altering the resort's ramp so trailered powerboats and even larger sailboats can get in and out during low-water times this year.

"It's definitely necessary," says Jesse Repp from the Rogue Yacht Club, which will sail at Lost Creek and Emigrant lakes instead of Howard Prairie because of low water and access problems. "As sailors, we sail where there's wind and water.

"Being able to use the lake needs to be the primary focus before adding some amenities we can't use," Repp says.

Lambert says the ramp already goes as deep as it can there because it hits a long flat before the reservoir's contour changes.

That's why the county's "wish list" design puts the marina in deeper water, supplanting some of the buoys now used to anchor boats overnight, Lambert says. While some buoys would remain, it could lead to more transient slips, he says.

"The vast majority of people want to be in docks," he says. "And it makes it useable for the majority of boats when the ramp is useable.

"This is kind of shooting for the stars," he says. "We'll see from the engineers if it's something that can be done."

Regardless of what design is chosen, if and when construction begins will hinge on securing grants, Lambert says. The bureau has a grant program that can match up to 50 percent of the project, and the Marine Board will be looked at to cover costs of some specific subsets of the overall project.

The Marine Board, for instance, has separate grants that can fund the rebuilding of public docks used for short-term "transient" moorage for boaters renting slips for three days or less, Lambert says.

Those grants would allow a design that could separate overnight moorings from boats docked at the resort season-long, with that portion possibly even gated for more security, Lambert says. Currently there is no extra security for moored boats, he says.

The lake is now about half-full, and with virtually no snowpack within its upper drainage, Howard Prairie is expected to get very low again this summer, exposing the marina's understructures.

"We want to take advantage of these low-water conditions so the engineers can see what they're doing and not be underwater," Lambert says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.