Group resurrects idea for footbridge over the Deschutes southwest of Bend

October 27, 2021
Group resurrects idea for footbridge over the Deschutes southwest of Bend

Two years ago, the Bend Park & Recreation District shelved plans to build a footbridge over the Deschutes River southwest of Bend after a bitter dispute between supporters of the concept and property owners nearby. Now a grassroots movement that supports the bridge idea is gearing up for a renewed campaign to build the bridge.

The nonprofit behind the campaign, Connect Bend, is gathering signatures for an online petition it hopes may convince the park district to reprioritize the bridge concept and has enlisted a group of local business and community leaders to help rally the masses.

Connect Bend says it hopes to gather 10,000 signatures. As of Thursday, around 1,900 people had signed the petition at

A bridge just south of Bend over the Deschutes River would allow residents who live near Brookswood Boulevard and Deschutes River Woods to more easily access hiking and biking trails on public lands near the Cascade Lakes Highway. These include Rimrock Trailhead and the Good Dog Loop area. Without the bridge, these areas are only accessible to neighborhoods on the east side of the river by driving along surface roads via Reed Market Road.

Brent Stinski, Connect Bend board member, says a footbridge south of town would ease traffic on Reed Market Road and improve trail access.

The project would do “what’s right for an underserved part of town,” said Stinski, a Deschutes River Woods property owner.

Connect Bend’s new advisory board includes Ted Schoenborn, a former Bend Park & Recreation District board member, and Conrad Marquard, owner of bottle maker Wave Hydration.

Anne Aurand, a spokesperson for the city of Bend, said the city is not involved with the project and has conducted no studies regarding the potential impact of a footbridge on traffic along Reed Market Road. If the bridge is to be built, it would be the responsibility of the Bend Park & Recreation District.

Earlier attempts by the park district to build a bridge were met with fierce public opposition. Most of the opposition came from residents on the west side of the river, creating a heated debate between neighborhoods in southwest Bend.

Opponents argue that more foot traffic in the area will degrade a fragile ecosystem, disturb wildlife and erode the banks of the Deschutes. The area is part of the Wild and Scenic River network and carries a State Scenic Waterway designation.

After two bills designed to block the bridge were introduced in the Oregon House of Representatives in 2017 and 2018, the park board brought in a third-party facilitator to commission a report on the issues plaguing the project. The report revealed deep divides between the various sides in the debate and noted that years of work may be needed to bridge the divide. The park district ended up removing the proposed bridge from its plans.

Tim Phillips, a homeowner from the west side of the river, led the campaign against the bridge. Phillips declined to comment on Connect Bend’s attempt to revive the bridge proposal. In an emailed statement he asked a Bulletin reporter to refer to letters sent by his lawyer “a few years ago.”

Don Horton, executive director for Bend Park & Recreation District, said in an email that the park district board removed the crossing from its capital improvement plan, and it’s not in the current five-year projection.

Several stakeholders, including the Deschutes National Forest, would need to back the bridge project for it to be considered, he added. A partnership with the U.S. Forest Service would require an environmental analysis, which requires several months to complete.

“The site is also a state of Oregon Scenic Waterway and a federally designated Wild and Scenic River,” said Horton. “While neither of these designations would outright prevent us from building a bridge, they both come with substantial hurdles that would be costly and time-consuming.”

“There are real hurdles to consider if we were to ever move this project forward,” he added.

But Ariel Mendez, a park board member, said the proposed bridge is a project that deserves revisiting. He was also pleased to learn that local residents were opening the matter for debate.

“I am not aware of anything that took it off the table permanently,” said Mendez. “I am open to revisiting it. It’s pretty exciting when you see people get organized in the public process.”

Zavier Borja, the district’s newest board member, also sees the bridge as a project that should be reevaluated.

“It coincides with myself, the board and the district’s values toward equity and inclusion,” said Borja, who won a seat on the board in May. “The bridge would provide easier access for recreation on those public lands in that neighborhood.”

Erik Fernandez, wilderness program manager of the environmental nonprofit Oregon Wild, said the debate over the footbridge led to a “compromise location” for a future bridge in southern Bend. That location is near Powers Road, about a mile south of the Bill Healy Bridge.

“The community had an exhaustive public process and debate on the issue between 2015 and 2020, resulting in a new compromise bridge location,” said Fernandez. “Not everyone got what they wanted, but a compromise option was identified, and a plan set in motion to study it.”

Stakeholders that were involved in the discussions include the Bend Park & Recreation District, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the Forest Service and Bend City Council, along with a number of environmental organizations.

The compromise bridge location mentioned by Fernandez is close to the western end of Powers Road. This bridge, wide enough to accommodate cars as well as walkers and bikers, is mentioned fleetingly in the city’s transportation system plan.

Robin Lewis, a transportation engineer for the city, said the transportation plan shows available east-west transportation facilities need to be studied in more detail. Such a study is identified in the plan but has not yet been moved to an active project.

“This study will look at east-west capacity needs, and develop options for addressing that need,” said Lewis in an email. “Including serving that demand through other modes such as the southern footbridge and other ideas to reduce need for motorized vehicle capacity in the future such as land use.”

Due to all the conversations already held over the pedestrian bridge, Fernandez thinks it’s too soon to start the process all over again, as it would likely lead to the same outcome.

“Starting up more public process after finally completing five years of process doesn’t seem like the best use of public time and resources,” said Fernandez. “The compromise option removed the controversial issues surrounding the previously proposed location. Let’s let that study play out.”


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