Editorial: What should Bend parks do to protect the river?

September 9, 2022
Editorial: What should Bend parks do to protect the river?

Floating the Deschutes River started to soar when the Bend Park & Recreation District opened Farewell Bend Park in the early 2000s.

Floating was always going to be a hit. Bend. Water. The summer sun. On a hot day the parade of floaters is a kaleidoscopic glaze on the river.

But are we loving the river to death? The phones, flip-flops, and sediment stirred into the river don’t improve it.

The Bend Park & Recreation District Board brought up that question earlier this year. The district staff thought about what it should do, if anything.

The bottom line: The board decided this week it made the most sense now to do what it has already planned with its river plan. Nothing more.

The river plan aims to better manage river access. Access is being barred in some places. Some areas are being restored to be more natural. Access is being improved in other areas in a way that is workable for users and healthier for the river.

Some things have already changed. The sand at Riverbend Park’s beach was replaced with gravel. That should mean less sediment in the river.

The district staff and board did go over other options for protecting the river. They get tricky because the district doesn’t control all access to the river. And also, it’s not easy to find an agreed upon measure that determines how much love the river can get before it is loved too much.

One idea was some sort of limit on user access by the district. It could be some sort of time limit —hours of access. It could be a limit on the number of people allowed to float.

Would the district have the legal authority to limit access in that way? We don’t know.

The district referred us to the unresolved legal dispute over the access to Oswego Lake. Access to the lake is restricted to city residents only. That case is not the same situation, though it may provide some guidance — if it ever gets resolved. It does have a bit of that Dickensian Jarndyce v. Jarndyce feel.

As another option, the district could also set up trigger events when it would decide to take more action to protect the river or look into taking more action. That’s also difficult because of finding an agreed upon measure for what the river can take.

Maybe more signs would help. More advertising about best river behavior. More outreach to visitors. More river clean ups.

The Deschutes dazzles as it flows through Bend. Worrying about its health is what we should be doing, whether you want to float, fish, paddle, play fetch with the dog or look to create a great environment for wildlife. The district is just trying to find the right balance. There’s nothing wrong with that.

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An aerial view of a body of water.