One of Oregon’s most famous whitewater rafting trips has reopened even as the Rum Creek Fire burns above the Rogue River in southern Oregon.
Fire crews closed the river Tuesday as the lightning-ignited blaze reached 520 acres, bu changed their decision on Wednesday and said that “the river will remain open unless life safety becomes an issue,” the Bureau of Land Management said in a news release.
The reopening “will be assessed daily by the incident management team based on fire activity and predicted weather,” the news release said.
The Rainie Falls Trail and Rogue River Trail will remain closed from Grave Creek to Russian Creek outside Grants Pass.
The wild section of the Rogue River is a major economic driver for the southwest Oregon area, with tourists often flying in from across the world and nation to float the river’s rapids and canyons with outfitters based in nearby Merlin and across the Rogue Valley. A special and hard-to-get permit is required to float the river between Grave Creek and Foster Bar, though a wilderness stretch of the stream.
River outfitters in the area said the decision was a good agreement that allowed them to keep offering trips safely while keeping out of the way of firefighters.
“There was a great meeting where we heard the fire crews concerns; we got together and said, ‘Here’s a way we can work around that to keep the river open,'” said Erik Weiseth, managing partner of Orange Torpedo Trips in Merlin, which runs commercial trips down the 34-mile wild section of the Rogue River.
With the fire so close to the river, however, the rafting experience will be a bit different. Stipulations will include:
“I’m thankful for the coordination and support from the river community,” said Bill Dean, Grants Pass BLM Field Manager. “With their input and commitment to safety, we feel comfortable approaching the river status on a daily basis.”
The fire was listed at 676 acres by Wednesday morning, and with hot and dry conditions in the forecast, it’s not expected to be suppressed anytime soon. That means people that do float the river are likely to float past active fires and potentially see smoke and helicopters dipping for water.
Weiseth, who also runs trips on Idaho rivers, said it’s fairly common for raft guides to run trips past active fires and in fire zones.
“It’s something we have a lot of experience with and honestly I can’t think of a year when we didn’t float past open flames along a river,” he said. “Wildfire natural part of wilderness environment. And honestly, for a customer, it can be a neat experience. While the uncertainty of whether the river is going to be open can breed some stress, ultimately, it adds adventure and makes for a good story.”
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Zach Urness has been an outdoors reporter in Oregon for 15 years and is host of the Explore Oregon Podcast. To support his work, subscribe to the Statesman Journal. Urness is the author of “Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon” and “Hiking Southern Oregon.” He can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.