Paddling the Rogue
July 16, 2018Jul 16, 2018By Erin Gaines
living outside paddle
In late June, my love of the outdoors, policy, and advocacy collided when I found myself on a raft, floating down the Rogue Wild & Scenic River in Southwest Oregon, flanked by some of the greatest conservation and stewardship advocates I know, talking about the act of Congress that ensured this landscape would be forever protected: the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Was this a dream?!
Those advocates in the kayaks next to me were American Whitewater Executive Director Mark Singleton and National Stewardship Director Kevin Colburn. They’d paddled the Rogue many times and have worked even harder outside their kayaks to protect this river and so many others. They are experts in paddling and conservation, and they were exactly who I wanted near me on my first ever multi-day river trip through the wilderness.
KEEN has a long-standing partnership with American Whitewater. Through this partnership, which started back in 2005, KEEN has donated over $700,000 to American Whitewater, which helps fund campaigns to protect whitewater rivers across the country. American Whitewater’s mission is “to conserve and restore America’s whitewater resources and to enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely.”
American Whitewater works to keep rivers free-flowing and clean by supporting new Wild & Scenic River designations, advocating for the removal of dams, protecting access to rivers for recreation, and speaking up against hydropower policies that harm fish and recreation. Their list of accomplishments is long and impressive, and their passion for their work is contagious.
American Whitewater has been hosting this multi-day rafting trip down the Rogue River with the Northwest Rafting Company for five years, each time drawing in veterans of the river and newbies alike. And because they’re awesome too, Northwest Rafting Company covers its own costs to run this trip every year, and all the proceeds go to American Whitewater, so they can continue their work to protect even more rivers under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
When my colleague Mark and I were invited on this four-day trip, I said “yes” without hesitation, and let my nerves catch up with me later. I had been on single-day rafting trips before, and I love a good weekend backpacking trip, but four days on a raft and three nights in a tent was a new adventure. And it started before I even left my house.
The first adventure I encountered was packing my bags. The trip happened to be the week of my first wedding anniversary, so we decided to have my husband, Derek, join in on the fun and really make the trip a special celebration, with challenges that would really put our marriage to the test (and I have to say, I think we passed with flying colors!). Being newbies to multi-day rafting, packing was definitely a challenge. But thankfully, Northwest Rafting Company, our outfitter for the trip, put together a super handy packing list, and we stuck to it diligently. And of course, working at KEEN means I can go straight to the experts to find out what water shoes to wear. The hands-down winner was the Newport sandal! Toe protection, comfortable fit, and soles that make hiking around big waterfalls a breeze made it the obvious choice.
With our bags packed and our Newport sandals on, we made the drive from Portland to Galice Resort, near Grants Pass, Oregon, where we would meet up with our group. After a hearty breakfast and a last-minute gear check, we loaded up the boats and got a safety briefing before heading out onto the river for our first day. A couple miles into the trip we entered the “Wild & Scenic” section of the Rogue River, and the beautiful scenery never stopped.
The Rogue was one of the first eight original rivers in the country to receive a Wild & Scenic River designation when the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act was passed by Congress in 1968. Currently, 84 miles of the river are protected under this designation, meaning that those miles of the river are kept safe from mining, development, and overuse. The river is known for epic salmon and steelhead fishing, stunning scenery, and fantastic whitewater rafting.
Throughout the course of the four-day trip, we took in everything the river had to offer. We saw deer, lizards, osprey, bald eagles, Merganser ducks (with lots of chicks!), three river otters, bats, and a snake. We rafted class 2 and 3 rapids through the wilds of the Rogue River, past the high rock walls of Mule Creek Canyon, to the sandy beach campsites that we called home every night.
The stars were unbelievable, and the Milky Way was brilliant. Thanks to SkyGuide (a stargazing app on our iPhones)—which still worked even miles from the nearest cell phone signal—we were able to identify stars, constellations, and planets. Venus and Jupiter lit up the night sky as we shared stories from the day, got to know our amazing new river friends, and enjoyed a beverage, ready to do it all again the next day.
To say we were taken care of on this trip would be an understatement. Our Northwest Rafting Company guides—four total—were incredible river hosts who took care of all the heavy lifting and meal prep, allowing us to relax and focus our energy on enjoying this new, exciting experience. We ate three amazing meals a day, had plenty of snacks in the boats, and were even offered cold beverages out of a bucket as we set up our tents every evening. It was more like “glamping” and I loved every minute.
Northwest Rafting Company plans amazing trips. And not only are you taken care of off the river, but on the river, the guides are experts who made us feel safe and comfortable the entire way. My nervousness disappeared as soon as I stepped in the boat. Our guides, Michael, Emily, William, and Peter, all basically grew up in a kayak or a raft, and have been rafting and guiding trips on the Rogue River for many years, so we were in great hands. Add in the fact that our American Whitewater friends were in their kayaks next to us, coaching and cheering us on as we tried new things and crushed every rapid, and it was smooth sailing… er, paddling.
I am grateful for this opportunity, which exposed me to a brand-new adventure, encouraged me to push past my comfort zone to try new things, and introduced Derek and me to the Rogue Wild & Scenic River, which now holds a special place in my heart and mind. For our second wedding anniversary next year, we are already planning a trip back to the Rogue, and maybe by then there will be even more miles of Wild & Scenic River for us to explore.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, which states: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish, and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.” There are currently 12,734 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers, and American Whitewater is working every day to increase that number and return more rivers to their free-flowing and natural state. KEEN is proud to partner with them and to support their efforts.