Rogue River: One Gem in the Crown of Southern Oregon

When you think of the town of  Rogue River, what immediately comes to mind as one of the city’s hidden gems?  This was the rather ambiguous question posed to city administrator, Mark Reagles, as well as former mayor, Pam Van Arsdale, and current mayor, Ryan Hess. For anyone who doesn’t know, Rogue River is a 2,200-person town, often associated with the flag-bearing bridge that catches the gaze of travelers on I-5. Nestled between Gold Hill and Grants Pass, Rogue River is the place to go for outdoor recreation—from rafting to biking. Though most people would consider the river itself as the town’s main asset, Reagles was quick to answer: “The people. They are the ‘gem’ of this town.”

Whether organizing the annual Rooster Crow, or helping the Mural Society raise money through bake sales and other fundraisers, the people of this Southern Oregon town are dedicated to supporting “community pride.” Even the trademark ‘RR’ on the mountainside reflects the city’s heritage. What began as a single ‘R’ made from white rocks and bedsheets, created by poison-oak covered high schoolers during a senior year rite-of-passage, has become the double-R, made of donated Duro-Last roofing material, maintained by the youth group from Grace Baptist Church. The mayor mentioned that he recently attended a community dinner with eighty to one hundred other locals. Families, long-time residents, and new additions to the town ate together as if Rogue River was a model for old-fashioned friendliness. “It’s like Mayberry,” said Van Arsdale, referencing the Andy Griffith Show’s emblem of small-town hospitality. “Everyone wants to give back to the community and businesses. For example, the Field of Dreams project over at the high school was built primarily by volunteers.”

As 2018 ended, Rogue River’s former mayor, Pam Van Arsdale, was privileged to be the recipient of the Mayor’s Leadership Award for a Small City, a coveted prize awarded for exceptional service to the community of Rogue River. She was presented this distinction by the Oregon Mayors’ Association. “It was such a surprise,” she said, “it usually goes to long-standing mayors. But it was an honor.” In her place, Ryan Hess was sworn into office at the end of January 2019.

Along with this excitement, the city of Rogue River was the first—out of all the communities in Jackson or Josephine County—to issue a proclamation on creating a “business-friendly environment.” These proclamations capitalize on the idea of a united region—noted for how well each business ‘plays it forward,’ and strives toward ‘consistent resource awareness.’ As discussed by Colleen Padilla, SOREDI’s Executive Director, “infectious collaboration will help [Southern Oregon] attract and retain other innovative companies and professionals who are looking for engaging, connected, and passionate communities to put down their roots and build new companies.”

While Rogue River may be small, its heart for community is certainly the opposite. “We have the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars], who decorate the bridge. We have the Hope Tree, dedicated to Hope Warren—a longtime Rogue River community member. We have the Mural Society, and we have probably the only covered boat ramp in all of Oregon,” Reagles laughed, continuing to list Rogue River’s attributes. “Rogue River started off as Tailholt in 1850. Then it was Woodville in 1872. In 1912 it finally got the name Rogue River.” He went on to talk about the Woodville Museum in Rogue River as another worthy experience—complete with an old jail and pioneer artifacts. “Yet still, everything comes down to the community.”

Thanks to the newest addition to our SOREDI team, our SOU intern, Abigail Skelton, we will continue to feature some of the popular attractions located in our Southern Oregon communities. We consider each one of our towns and cities to be “jewels in the crown” that makes up Southern Oregon. If you have a story idea sparked by an inspiring local attraction, please e-mail our Communications Manager, Codi Spodnik and maybe Abigail will be giving you a call to follow up.  If you are a SOREDI Member and you have some great news, please e-mail it to Codi so we can share it in our newsletter.


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