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Rogue River whitewater park proposal to get first look

GOLD HILL — A plan to turn a dicey Rogue River rapid into a world-class whitewater course and training center will get its first vetting Tuesday before a cadre of governmental permitting agencies to see whether the proposal could hold water.

Steve Kiesling will pitch his vision of the project to state and federal officials who would have to sign off on the plan before any changes could be made to the Rogue in the former Powerhouse Rapids area near Gold Hill.

He plans to go over a suite of possibilities, which include removing or reshaping "Muggers Rock" to make the Muggers Alley portion of the run safer for recreational boaters and more consistent for racers and trainers.

Kiesling also will broach other possibilities, such as a temporary bridge to an island so visitors can get a better view of the run, the placement of a parking lot and more.

On hand will be representatives from state and federal fish and wildlife agencies, state lands, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and even the Oregon Department of Transportation — all of which would require permits for at least some of what Kiesling envisions for the rapid, which is now called Ti'lomikh Falls, the name used by Native Americans who historically fished there.

Kiesling expects to face questions about potential impacts to native salmon, riparian zones, details of dealing with Muggers Rock and even questions about impacts of nesting wildlife on the island.

"We're just going to go in and say, 'Hey, this is what we're trying to do and here are a bunch of options. What's possible?' " Kiesling says.

"We could find out if there is some insurmountable obstacle, and it dies," Kiesling says. "My sense is that won't happen. There are a lot of people who want to see this work, but no one wants to harm the fish or the birds."

The meeting will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Gold Hill City Hall.

Denver-based whitewater course designer Rick McLaughlin was scheduled to tour the site today. McLaughlin, who designed the 1996 U.S. Olympic kayaking course and is tapped to design this one, will attend Tuesday's meeting, Kiesling says.

The "one-stop shopping" meeting was pulled together in part by Jackson County Commissioner Don Skundrick, who believes a world-class training center and course would be a cash magnet for the region.

"From an economic-development standpoint, I think it would be an excellent tourism draw," Skundrick says. "It not only would be great for Gold Hill, but it would also bleed into the rest of the county."

Neighboring landowner and Rogue fish advocate Tom Collett says he's skeptical about the project — particularly about blasting Muggers Rock.

"If he's talking about taking that rock out, that might be something (regulators) balk at," Collett says. "If you start doing that, where do you quit? Where do you draw the line?"

David Haight, an ODFW fish biologist, says his agency will be interested in the details of any impacts to the banks and riparian areas from the proposed course. Though the river stretch is within critical habitat for threatened coho salmon, the rapid is not a spawning or rearing area.

Kiesling says the final product at Ti'lomikh Falls could range from an intricate course to little more than a parking lot and a temporary bridge to better serve competitions, demonstrations and training already occurring at the falls.

"We clearly have a great whitewater park there already," Kiesling says. "But you reshape a few things and suddenly you have this economic generator that doesn't hurt anybody."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.