Despite low flows, Oregon river recreation busier than ever…

Boaters enjoying the whitewater rapids on the McKenzie River.

Boaters enjoying the whitewater rapids on the McKenzie River.

Despite low flows, Oregon river recreation busier than ever due to hot weather

By Terry Richard | The Oregonian/OregonLive
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on July 21, 2015 at 5:30 AM

With some exceptions, last winter’s low snowfall across Oregon didn’t dampen enthusiasm for summer water sports.

In fact, summer’s recreational boating season has been busier than in recent years, due to pent up demand following the uptick in the economy and to the warm weather since early June that has people scurrying to water to cool off.

“Some of the rivers, the John Day, Clackamas and Sandy among them, are already at late summer flows,” said Dave Slover, owner of Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe in Portland. “But the main staples, the Deschutes, White Salmon, Rogue, North Santiam, all have plenty of water for boating.

“And with the incredible weather we’ve been having, our flatwater rental business of stand-up paddle boards has been booming.”

The North Santiam is an interesting case. As the reservoir that feeds the lower North Santiam, Detroit Lake joined the Owyhee River of southeast Oregon as poster boys for the Oregon drought this spring. Detroit Lake is still very low, but enough water is released out of Big Cliff Reservoir just below that the North Santiam is running at near average summer flows (1,000 cubic feet per second).

Boating goes on at Detroit Lake, too, though moorage is limited to where the two resorts relocated docks in late May to lower water levels.

Launching on Detroit Lake is limited to one of nine boat ramps, Mongold on State Route 22. Fortuitously, that ramp was upgraded in 2010 by the Oregon Marine Board, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and other agencies to serve low-water conditions typical of winter. The long concrete ramp down the brown side of the reservoir has been a godsend this summer.

With some exceptions, water out of Oregon reservoirs is released to keep fish runs healthy. As it turns out, those water levels are good for boating, too, especially rafting and kayaking.

Rogue River Blossom Bar Rafting and kayaking through Blossom Bar, the main rapids on the Rogue River in southwest Oregon’s Curry County.

“We’re doing well, though we started the year with some apprehension,” said Aaron Lieberman, operations manager for Orange Torpedo Trips, a Rouge River outfitter based in Merlin. “Business is up for most of our trips. It’s hard to say with any degree of authority why, but the perception is people are feeling more secure about spending non-essential income. More than anything, though, it’s the record number of hot days we’ve had, over 100 degrees.”

The Rogue River is currently running at 1,560 cfs at Grants Pass, which compares to a 75-year median for the same date of 1,590 cfs. It’s been higher in mid-July (4,070 cfs in 2011), but also far lower (778 cfs in 1940).

“Regardless of the flow people are still using the wild and recreational sections of the Rogue,” said Ross Parsons, a river ranger for the federal Wild and Scenic section. “The hot weather is getting people out. We don’t expect to see a drop in demand until the Grants Pass gauge drops below 1,000 cfs.

“The river at this flow is navigable by a skilled oarsman or woman. You may get stuck on a rock for a bit, but that happens at 10,000 cfs, too.”

The Rogue River’s passenger jet boat companies, upstream from Gold Beach and downstream from Grants Pass, are adjusting their operations to deal with water levels, as they do every season. The companies are decreasing weight in their boats by taking fewer passengers, but with capacities of 42 they are still taking 30 or more.

The trip to the wild section from Grants Pass ended in late June, compared to July 4 last year, due to low water, but the rest of the river has fewer obstacles and those trips are continuing. The Gold Beach jet boats are still running up to the wild section and will do so until around Sept. 10, when water released out of Lost Creek Reservoir diminishes.

Portland-area rafters and kayakers will continue to have access to what amounts to a second season in early September, when water is drawn down from Rimrock Reservoir east of White Pass in Washington. The water is late-season irrigation for the Yakima Valley, but it also sends boaters into a frenzy on the Tieton River for three weeks after Labor Day. Rimrock is 91 percent full at present.

Terry Richard
trichard@oregonian.com
503-221-8222; @trichardpdx

*Be sure to go with an OSMB registered Outfitter/Guide.

For more information about river safety when using a paddlecraft, visit the Marine Board’s Paddlecraft page.

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