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Raft of ideas

GOLD HILL — Rafting guide Paul Botsford knows that sometimes the sketchiest part of a Rogue River raft trip is getting in and out of Fisher's Ferry boat ramp, and that's using the term "ramp" loosely.

The ramp, off Gold Hill Road, is steep and narrow and sports little room for maneuvering and even less for parking. It's only half concrete, with loose gravel on the upper end that is hell on two-wheel-drive vans used to haul rafts and guests to the Rogue.

"Start backing up and you'll slide until you get to the concrete, and that's when you hope to get some traction," Botsford says. "It's a bit dodgey."

OK. So put him down for ... "Fix Boat Ramp."

That's one of hundreds of opinions Jackson County officials are soliciting this summer as they take the public's pulse on the kinds of improvements they would like to see along a 13-mile stretch of the Rogue, including a new park created by the removal of Gold Ray Dam.

Spurred by the 2010 dam removal, which opened boating access to areas that had been blocked for 106 years, the county and others are in the early stages of a recreation plan that will guide state, county and federal land managers in how they deal with public access without trampling the stretch's uniqueness.

To help get there, county parks officials this month have launched an aggressive attempt to gather opinions, using an online questionnaire and staging surveys at boat ramps to question users on what they want to see change — or remain the same — along this stretch.

The information will help parks officials mold a draft recreation plan for the stretch of Rogue from Givan Park near Eagle Point down past TouVelle State Park and Fisher's Ferry to the Nugget Falls Recreation Area.

"We're trying to get a feel for how people are using the river and what the public would like to see here," says Steve Lambert, the county's parks manager.

So far, parks crews have heard from commercial fishing and rafting guides about improved access, while equestrian groups have asked for more horse trails. Birders have sought better access to the former Kelly Slough area, now dubbed Kelly Creek after the dam's 2010 removal largely drained it.

Hikers, too, have expressed interest in creating new trails that would link the former dam and powerhouse site with nearby Lower Table Rock.

Others have asked for better access to the new parklands and interpretive center that now sit where the old dam and powerhouse created Southern Oregon's first hydropower in 1904.

And, of course, the boating community has chimed in on behalf of improved access, Lambert says.

"A lot of people want more adequate put-ins and take-outs," he says.

The county in mid-May held a public comment meeting that drew more than 80 people, with more than 50 logging comments, Lambert says.

But the bulk of the effort will come via the website questionnaire and the in-person surveys.

To see the questionnaire, go to www.jacksoncounty.org and click on the "Departments" tab on the county homepage. Then click on "Parks" and find the "Rogue River Access and Recreation Mgmt Plan" link on the page's left side.

The in-field surveys will be done by Southern Oregon University under a $135,385 grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which is paying for the monitoring of effects from removal of a major dam from a major wild salmon stream.

The post-dam studies include economic impacts of the dam's removal — such as fostering more rafting and fishing traffic — and is considered one of the major parts of the project.

Already about 85 people have taken the online questionnaire, and Lambert wants to see that jump to 400.

"We've heard from a broad spectrum of users," Lambert says. "People are obviously interested in the project."

And everyone, it seems, has an opinion about Fisher's Ferry.

The poor condition of this archaic ingress and egress point, along an increasingly popular river stretch, has rafting guides such as Botsford and Andrew Moens eschewing it altogether.

It's actually easier for them to haul their rafts off the trailer and drag them across exposed bedrock than to drive up and down the rustic ramp in their van.

It has such low utility that the armada of gold dredgers now working the area avoid it.

"It keeps some of the riffraff out of here, but it sure could use some work," Moens says.

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

Rafting guides Andrew Moens, front, and Paul Botsford of Noah's River Adventures unload a raft at Fisher's Fairy boat ramp near Gold Hill Friday. - Jamie Lusch