Director named for lake ‘Outdoor Center’

    Andy Atkinson / Daily Tidings<br>Wendy Conner and Rick Brown inside the Rogue Rowing boathouse Friday morning.

    Wendy Conner has been hired to oversee the raising of $3.5 million to build the Emigrant Lake Outdoor Center, a hub for Rogue Rowing’s crew and other nonmotorized watercraft, with groundbreaking slated for late 2019 and, optimally, completion in summer 2020.

    Emigrant Lake is a Jackson County Park and the county has given a $100,000 grant to pay for preliminary design of the two story, 25,000-square foot building, which will be located in vacant land next to the picnic area.

    The boathouse is envisioned to hold the club’s 60 rowing shells on the ground floor, with access to water immediately in front. Presently, most shells are housed in a utility building a few hundred yards from the lake. The upper floor will be for offices and meetings.

    The boathouse may also house and rent other nonmotorized craft, such as kayaks, paddleboards, sailboats, canoes and standup paddleboards, said Conner. Lessons in such craft may also be given.

    The architect, Anmahian Winton of Cambridge, Massachusetts, won a nationwide competition and was awarded the contract this summer. Their first conceptual designs will be delivered this month and will be followed by a public comment period. Their credentials include doing the largest community boathouse in the nation, said Brown.

    Brown said the project will bring in $2 million a year in tourism into the area and create about 30 jobs.

    Rogue Rowing was started in 1998 by Ashland High School and was called the Ashland Rowing Club, but it soon became so popular in the whole Valley, including a team at Southern Oregon University, that its name was changed to Rogue Rowing, said its Executive Director Rick Brown.

    Brown emphasizes that the mission of the growing club and the new boathouse is “to give it to the community as a regional resource and we’ve only had positive feedback about it. Everyone we’ve talked to is excited about it.”

    Rowing here has attracted all ages, from 5 to 91, says Brown, and, thanks to a “pretty awesome” $25,000 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation, it will also be possible for blind people and those with no legs to participate in rowing.

    Emigrant Lake, a manmade reservoir, has a rising and falling water level, based on irrigation needs and rainfall, giving it a length of 3,000 to 7,000 feet for rowing, said Brown.

    “We hear that concern all the time, that people think the lake is gone,” says Brown, “but we’ve studied 50-year data and it’s an irrigation lake that’s meant to fill and go down and fill again. It can be dry for a year or two and it gets low in the fall but that doesn’t affect us.”

    The rowing distance is acceptable and has allowed the organization to host international rowing team camps for the last several years, he adds. In addition, it’s a “prime location” between San Francisco and Portland for teams to get in shape for competitions.

    A big plus for the burgeoning Outdoor Center is that area middle and high school teams can drill and compete with other teams around the Northwest, says Brown, honing their skills for winning college scholarships.

    “They race all over the West and there are more college scholarship opportunities per numbers of students than in any other sport,” he says.

    A big variable is that wildfire smoke above the orange range (sensitive groups, AQI 101 to 150) means the shells stay in the boathouse and rowers work out on indoor rowing machines, with air purifiers going.

    “It affects the whole West Coast and we’re just going to have to deal with it,” says Brown. “There’s no way you row in (heavy smoke).”

    State and Federal organizations, including the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Parks Service and the Oregon Marine Board, helped choose the site for the project, says Brown. The land is rented from the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

    Conner, formerly the director of operations for the Ashland Independent Film Festival for a decade, said “I’m absolutely thrilled to be joining the team who are making the Outdoor Center possible. I love the outdoors and feel very at home on the water as an avid canoeist and kayaker, so it’s a perfect job for me.”

    John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at

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