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'Never-ending battle'

APPLEGATE — "Driftwood" has turned into a four-letter word to Glenn Richardson and Brandon Royalty, who daily are grappling with one of the worst floating-debris dilemmas in 20 years on Applegate Lake.

Hefty winter storms unleashed massive quantities of snags, branches and other woody debris into the lake from the mountains above, compounded by the logs lining the high banks that were floated when Jackson County's second-largest reservoir hit near-full levels earlier this spring.

The result is a sea of floating landmines ebbing and flowing throughout the reservoir, clogging boat ramps and forcing Richardson and Royalty to construct an intricate web of floating booms to corral the pesky logs and prevent them from barricading the Hart-Tish Park boat ramp.

"Every morning it blows toward the dam," says Richardson, the concessionaire who runs the Forest Service facility here. "Every afternoon, the wind changes and they blow off the dam and right back at us."

"It's really hard to keep up with it," Richardson says. 

A similar situation is occurring at Lake Shasta, to a lesser extent in Lost Creek Lake and in other Pacific Northwest reservoirs inundated with the one-two punch of driftwood sources this spring, similar to conditions that followed the last big-water spring in 2011.

The problem doesn't appear to be waning heading into Memorial Day weekend, which is the unofficial start of the summer boating season.

"This is the second-worst amount of debris I've dealt with since '97," says John McKelligott, the recreation technician stationed at the nearby Starr Ranger Station of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

McKelligott earlier spent several days in the ranger station's tug, dragging booms around the lake to collect debris and store it in the reservoir's French Arm along Applegate Dam's northeast side.

He's considered trying to collect as many of the large rafts along the dam and elsewhere as he can and store them all in the French Arm, then close it with booms to trap it all there, McKelligott says.

A similar strategy worked with excess debris last year at Lost Creek Lake.

Forest spokeswoman Chamise Kramer says forest managers are mulling that strategy, but no decision has been made.

Hart-Tish Park is the hub of human activity at Applegate Lake, and it's turned into endless, Dante-esque toils for Richardson and Royalty.

The routine has the pair in the water three or four times a day corralling debris behind booms they make out of some of the larger, heavier driftwood pieces. Shovels are stationed at the ramp to clean the edge of the concrete ramp, but it's been like shoveling during a blizzard.

"It's a never-ending battle," says Royalty, the park manager. "I'm starting to recognize logs, I've seen them so often."

Vernon Warren and Richard Malmar are regular weekly visitors to the lake, where they fish for stocked rainbow trout.

"We had to fight through the barricade, but it's better this week than last," Warren says.

While trying to get out Tuesday, his electric trolling motor struck a piece of driftwood, sheering off the propeller's cotter pin and rendering it useless without a new one.

Once they're out on the lake, they have plenty of reasons to obey the lake's 10-mph speed limit.

"If you go fast, you'll hit something, for sure," Warren says. "But ... we have the lake to ourselves."

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Glenn Richardson, concessionaire at Hart-Tish Park boat ramp, and Brandon Royalty, manager, work to keep the ramp free of logs and debris Tuesday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]