Despite a pandemic, activity on the Deschutes River was still high

October 15, 2020
Despite a pandemic, activity on the Deschutes River was still high

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, there was little change in the number of people who came to recreate on the Deschutes River this year compared to last summer, according to a recently released report from the Bend Park & Recreation District.

“Although the pandemic brought about many changes to operations and opportunities related to river recreation, the looming health crisis and community marketing efforts to discourage tourism did not result in a significant decrease in park or river use,” the report states. “In fact, it is likely that more residents and visitors than ever took advantage of the outdoor recreation options available.”

The report, which is released every fall, shows that 205,360 people were counted floating, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding or otherwise recreating on the Deschutes River in Bend between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend. The estimate for the same period last year was 240,420, though Brown said that number is believed to be too high. The report warns against comparing the two numbers because there were “data inaccuracies” in 2019, and the trail counters were moved this year to make counting more accurate.

Roughly 2,290 people used the river on an average weekend day this summer, with the highest use of the summer peaking on July 11 with 6,221 visitors, according to the report.

Roughly 45% of the people who rented kayaks and paddleboards from Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe were from Oregon, according to the report. About a quarter were from California, and 16% were from Washington.

“In a summer when many individuals and families deferred out-of-the-area travel or sought nearby destinations, Bend was busy,” Julie Brown, the public information officer for the district, said in an email. “And the river provided opportunities to be outdoors with distancing if people participated earlier in the day or later into the evening. Distancing was challenging on busy afternoons, but many river users made adjustments, wore masks getting in and out of the river, and enjoyed themselves.”

The Bulletin reported this summer that mask wearing was inconsistent with most people using the river.

The large number of visitors is particularly notable considering the district didn’t do what it usually does to promote the river. This year, there were no marketing efforts and no floating tube rentals on-site, and the shuttle that carries tubers from Riverbend Park to Drake Park did not operate.

While the district plans to resume these efforts once the pandemic is over, some changes are here to stay, Brown said. The district is keeping a rule it implemented to avoid crowding at the whitewater park. The rule limits the number of people using the standing surf wave to eight people at one time for one hour.

“The limited number of surfers and the one-hour time limit has allowed river users to get more opportunities to ride the wave than in the past,” Brown said in an email.

But the pandemic also exacerbated other issues like vandalism and more accumulated trash, according to the report. In particular, parks saw more popped float tubes and pool toys clogging up trash cans.

“This is likely due in part to the absence of on-site opportunities to rent more durable equipment and users bringing their own inexpensive floatation items not intended for river use,” the report stated.

Brown said the district has had to educate about these issues before and will continue to do so into the future.

Reporter: 541-633-2160,

Share this post