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Jackson County seeks input on Shady Cove boat ramp project

Tonie Stewart, of Ashland, left, and Mike Vanderdunk, of Detroit, finish up their day of steelhead fishing at the Upper Rogue Regional Park boat ramp in Shady Cove Friday. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Jackson County is seeking input from residents on the kinds of qualities they’d like to see in a new boat ramp at Upper Rogue Regional Park in Shady Cove.

For years, the ramp has been plagued by numerous issues, with its short length, failing concrete and inability to handle the large influx of users during peak months. Those issues led the county, which owns the ramp, to seek grant funding from Oregon State Marine Board to conduct a cultural resource survey, as well as hydrological and wetland delineation studies, of the proposed structure.

Once that work was complete, the county worked with engineers from the Marine Board to craft four boat ramp design concepts, unveiled at a Thursday open house at the Jackson County Auditorium.

“What we’re trying to achieve is, how do we replace a boat ramp … to where it can meet the demands of the types of use that is happening today, and reduce conflict to make it a more pleasant experience for everyone, whether you’re a commercial rafting company, or you’re just the average person looking to launch a boat,” said Steve Lambert, Jackson County roads and parks director.

He said a new board ramp could cost between $1.5 and $2 million, which is why the Marine Board grant was needed.

“Now that we’ve got (preliminary studies) out of the way,” Lambert said, “it’s time to go to the public and ask, ‘What do you want to see?’”

Representatives from the Marine Board, including Janine Belleque, the agency’s boating facility program manager, were on hand Thursday to explain the four design concepts.

“One of the principal goals was to create a boat ramp that can withstand the hydraulic forces during high water and last 25 to 30 years without having it gradually disappear,” Belleque said.

The Marine Board was also aware of “conflicts” between commercial rafting companies, kayakers and drift boats during peak times the boat ramp is used, she added.

“All of that is a concern; we want everyone to have a very positive experience on the water,” Belleque said. “So one of the goals was to resolve some of that conflict through design options.”

David Bowman, owner of Raft the Rogue Raft Rentals in Shady Cove, did not attend Thursday’s meeting but told the newspaper afterward that he’d like to see the boat ramp widened.

“You need to be able to have six vehicles back down to the water at once, not two-and-a-half,” Bowman said.

If there were more lanes, he believes, his employees could launch their rafts at the boat ramp without a “bottleneck” conflict between them and other users.

“You kind of just have to take turns, but the problem with the drift boat people is, they want the whole ramp just for one trailer because they can’t back up straight,” Bowman said. “That’s the only conflict.”

Lambert acknowledged congestion on the boat ramp, which is one of the factors that will play into the finished design, making the structure easier for all parties to use.

During Thursday’s open house, Belleque spent a few hours talking to boat ramp users and hearing their feedback.

“This is the first chance for people to comment on this,” Belleque said. “The county will collect all this information, and we will work with the county and modify designs.”

During Thursday’s open house, people were asked to write “pros” and “cons” on the boat ramp design concepts.

“Pro” comments included: “We would still have a boat ramp,” the “raft pad is a good idea” and “Thank you for … asking for our opinions.” However, attendees did not always follow directions, with one person writing “none!” on one of the “pro” sheets.

The “con” comments included thoughts that the concepts don't “meet community needs,” even that the new ramp is “way too big!” Others also felt the concepts “allow boating companies to be way too present.”

Mary Stirling, a Shady Cove resident since 2006, read many people’s comments, which she characterized as “negative” and “not helpful.”

“Let’s keep it on the positive side,” Stirling said. “That’s what (the county is) asking for — constructive feedback.”

Lambert acknowledged feedback, even plenty of “cons,” can be helpful in aiding the county on improving the boat ramp.

“It’s probably more valuable (to read), ‘What does the public not like,” he said. “That helps us go back to the drawing board and refine our drawings and concepts to meet what the public needs. The farther you go in a process like this, the more agreement you get. If we continue down the path of negative comments, however, we’re probably not doing our jobs right.”

For her part, Stirling rafts on the Rogue River “occasionally” and agrees the boat ramp is “in dire need of being fixed.”

“It’s very difficult now for anyone using the boat trailer. It just kind of drops off the edge of the world there,” Stirling said, before mentioning how the ramp’s state of disrepair impacts Jackson County Fire District 4.

District 4 Fire Chief Greg Winfrey confirmed the boat ramp is tough on his agency’s two-boat fleet, which are deployed often for rescues.

“(The ramp) does not allow for a timely response,” Winfrey said. “It’s tight and narrow and not very effective.”

He added that Friday or Saturday afternoons, during the boat ramp’s “rush hour,” it is “almost impossible for us to launch, if we had to.”

Getting the department’s boats out of the water is more risky than putting them in, Winfrey said, in part because of the concrete’s “sharp edges.”

“I do believe something good will come out of it,” Winfrey said of the public input process.

The county is asking for public comments until Nov. 30. Comments can be emailed to parksinfo@jacksoncounty.org.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.