River cleanup nets bottles, phones— and a wedding ring

July 31, 2018
River cleanup nets bottles, phones— and a wedding ring

Cleanup in Bend removes 1,500 pounds of debris from Deschutes River

As expected, volunteers at the 22nd annual Deschutes River Cleanup in Bend on Saturday found lost cellphones, flip-flops and hundreds of beer bottles and cans. But one item was a complete surprise — a man’s lost wedding ring, found on the bottom of the river.

The man, who was visiting Bend earlier this summer from California, lost the ring while floating with his wife by the Bill Healy Memorial Bridge. He asked event organizers to keep an eye out for the ring at the cleanup event.

Central Oregon Diving assigned the task to experienced diver Kurt Cundiff, who at last year’s river cleanup event discovered a sunken $3,700 canoe that disappeared in the river during the 2017 Spring Paddlefest.

Cundiff made three attempts with an underwater metal detector, but couldn’t find the ring. After a fourth attempt, without the metal detector, Cundiff surfaced with the man’s ring.

His discovery was the shock of the day.

“I was very surprised,” said Kolleen Miller, education director for the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and river cleanup event organizer.

“There is just so much there in the river, and it’s dark down there. It’s hard to imagine actually finding the ring.”

The river cleanup event is coordinated each year by the watershed council, with help from the city of Bend, Deschutes County Search and Rescue and Central Oregon Diving, which brought 25 divers on Saturday.

The scuba divers, kayakers and paddleboarders who volunteered Saturday — more than 200 volunteers — uncovered at least 1,500 pounds of debris. Some of the debris included weeds along the riverbank, while other debris consisted of trash and lost items found in the river by the divers.

Volunteers cleaned the river in the Old Mill District and near First Street Rapids Park and Benham Falls.

Miller said the annual event is a good reminder to floaters about how much waste they are leaving in the river. This year, volunteers found 134 aluminum cans, 194 glass bottles and 15 plastic bottles, which were all recycled. Some of the cans and bottles were unopened, including three bottles of vodka, a bottle of rum and a six pack of Modelo beer.

The stretch of the Deschutes River through the Old Mill District is still listed as one of the highest water qualities in the state, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. But officials worry about the long-term effect of thousands of pounds of waste from all the floaters.

Last summer, at least 250,000 people floated the river through Bend, according to the Bend Park & Recreation District. A record 2,000 pounds — 1 ton — of debris was uncovered at last year’s cleanup event.

The Upper Deschutes Watershed Council hopes to keep seeing less waste at each cleanup. To raise more awareness about the river’s health, the council has launched an educational campaign called Enjoy Protect Respect, which encourages people to float the river safely and pick up their trash and belongings.

“The main thing is we are hoping people still enjoy the river, but also don’t treat it like a Disneyland ride,” Miller said. “Think of it as a natural flowing river that is just as important for fish and water habitat as it is for people’s enjoyment.”

When the river cleanup event started more than two decades ago, it was focused on pulling weeds and picking up litter on the riverbanks. Over the years, the focus shifted to removing debris from the river. And now, the event puts an emphasis on all aspects of cleaning the river.

“It’s just evolved every single year, and with the divers’ help and more people on boats, we are able to do it all,” Miller said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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