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As It Was: Fish Lake Dam Provides Water and Recreation

In the 1920’s, hundreds of men with horses and wagons excavated rough, back-country terrain in the Southern Oregon Cascades to create the Fish Lake irrigation reservoir.  Today the lake, 35 miles northeast of Medford, Ore., provides year-round recreation and water for Rogue Valley farms and orchards.

An employee in 1921 at the site, Jack Moran, recalled how simple arguments between construction workers at the 4,639-foot-elevation dam sometimes escalated into serious violence.  He told how a worker went into a rage over some food he didn’t like, threw a piece of burned potato in Moran’s face and demanded to be paid.  The enraged man pulled out a pistol and others sought cover, but he only fired into the ground.  Another man produced a rifle to quiet him down.

The Medford Irrigation District operates the dam today.  Campers or those staying at the lake’s rustic resort, have excellent views of Mount McLaughlin to the north and smaller Brown Mountain to the south.  Fed by underground streams, Fish Lake provides trout fishing and hiking in a remote forest setting.

Sources: "Fish Lake." Bureau of Reclamation, 2017, https://www.usbr.gov/projects/index.php?id=104. Accessed 20 May 2017; "Potpourri." Mail Tribune, 19 Mar. 1978 [Medford, Ore.; "Fish Lake." Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, USDA Forest Service, 2017, https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/rogue-siskiyou/recreation/recarea/?recid=74282. Accessed 20 May 2017.

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.