Overview: Located just a half hour from I-5, Elk Creek offers an idyllic escape from the bustle of nearby Medford. This Rogue River tributary drains a moderate-elevation watershed along the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, emptying into the Rogue five miles upstream of Shady Cove. Elk Creek winds through a gentle and remarkably pristine valley where lush stands of alder and cottonwood shelter abundant wildlife. In fact, it's one of the best-preserved lowland valleys in the region. The area is undeveloped because years ago the Army Corps of Engineers, with plans to dam the creek for a flood control project, bought up all the private property and condemned the creekside ranches. They also routed the new Elk Creek Road up above the high-water level of the proposed reservoir, diverting vehicle traffic up out of the valley bottom. Thus, although the valley floor is popular when it is open seasonally for day use (May through October), during the winter paddling season it offers near-total solitude. The Army Corps began building Elk Creek Dam in 1986, and if completed the dam would have flooded the entire run described here. However, in 1988 when the dam was only a third finished, construction was stopped by litigation and additional studies that demonstrated the dam did not make economic sense and would significantly impact salmon. At present salmon are trucked around the dam site, but this expensive method had limited success, leading the Army Corps to propose notching the dam in 2008 to provide unhindered fish passage. In addition to impeding salmon headed upstream, the partially constructed dam blocked boaters headed down, forcing them to take out a half mile above the dam site. Once the dam was notched, paddlers were able to continue an additional 2.5 miles to the Rogue River confluence. The paved spur road that descends to the access above the dam is blocked by a gate that is locked seasonally from Nov 15 to April 30. This closure is part of an agreement between the Corps and ODFW to help protect the valley from vehicle damage during the wet season. But where once boaters had to hike out they can now boat through the dam site and continue on downstream to the Rogue River and easy public access. Elk Creek is a rainy season run, with flows rising and falling quickly depending on rainfall. Flow information is available from a USGS gauge a mile above the Rogue confluence. Check the flow before you float. Wet weather typically brings Elk Creek up to boatable levels sometime in late autumn, and the season commonly lasts until late April or early May. In summer the creek recedes to a trickle. The run is suitable for kayaks, inflatable kayaks, whitewater canoes and small rafts (R-2's). Small boats can scrape down on 150 cfs, though the run is better with a bit more water. The Run: The whitewater is mostly Class II and II+, punctuated by a few easy III's, and the gradient of 33 feet per mile keeps the current moving briskly. The dense riparian woodland means strainers and logs are always a potential hazard, and at least one carry around log hazards is likely. Approach all blind corners with caution. Near put-in the valley is fairly narrow, with forested slopes on either side. The put-in represents the high-water mark of the proposed Elk Creek Reservoir. About a mile downstream a small horizon line announces a shelfy Class III- drop, which is typical of the larger rapids on the run. Soon the valley begins to widen, with lush bars and broad grassy meadows marking the sites of former ranches. The creek winds across the valley floor, occasionally sweeping into rocky bluffs and small cliffs. Toward the end of the run the valley narrows again and the only sizable tributary, the West Branch, enters on the right around mile 5. A third of a mile downstream is the steepest drop on the run. About a three quarters or a mile below this drop is the dam site. Accesses and Shuttle: To reach Elk Creek follow Hwy 62 east from Medford to Shady Cove and drive upriver along the Rogue. Five miles upstream from Shady Cove the highway crosses Elk Creek where it joins the Rogue
To reach the put-in, turn left onto paved Elk Creek Road which is just before the bridge across the creek. Head 8 miles up the road. Just upstream from where the road first descends to the right bank, look for a large, undeveloped flat between the road and the creek. Put in anywhere along this undeveloped public creek frontage. This put-in is a few hundred yards downstream from where Flat Creek enters Elk Creek.
Comments of American Whitewater on Draft Supplemental Environmental Assessment for Fish Passage Corridor, Elk Creek Project, Jackson County, Oregon, CENWP-PM-07-05.
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Elk Creek Dam
Elk Creek Valley
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This week, Oregon House Bill 2835 re-passed the Oregon House on a 52-7 vote. Having earlier cleared the Senate, the bill now awaits a signature from the Governor to be signed into law. For decades, opportunities to protect and improve the ability of the public to access and legally use waterways for recreation have seen minimal progress, while efforts to severely limit access have been a consistent threat. Oregon House Bill 2835 is a pivotal piece of legislation in Oregon, and the first proactive waterway access bill in recent history to have made it through the state legislature.
Construction of Elk Creek Dam in the Rogue River basin was halted in 1988. Since that time the dam has remained as a barrier to fish and navigation. This week the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a contract to notch the dam this year.
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