The river is calling, and the Bend park district wants to clean it up

February 15, 2021
The river is calling, and the Bend park district wants to clean it up

The banks of the Deschutes River have taken a beating as more and more people seek respite on the waterway that strikes through the heart of Bend.

The Deschutes beckons Bendites and visitors alike for swimming, lounging, tubing, kayaking, paddleboarding and more. Increased use over the years has chewed away at riparian habitat and eroded the riverbanks, which hurts the river itself and the wildlife that depend on it.

The Bend Park and Recreation District last week unveiled a list of 33 project proposals to accommodate the uptick in recreation while also safeguarding the sparkling waters that draw all those people.

“People want more access to the river,” said Sarah Bodo, a planner with the district. “But we have also noticed that people are getting into the river at places we would call ‘not designated’ or ‘user-created.’”

Bend has 25 designated river access points across 16 riverfront parks, but intrepid recreationists have carved out nearly 100 points along the river’s edge in town to slip into the water.

“All that use adds up,” said Kris Knight, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. “I think it’s just important to recognize that Bend Park and Recreation District is trying to balance how do we provide access to the river but also maintain the integrity of the river.”

Related: Plan restores flows on the Upper Deschutes but may not be enough for threatened species

The park district suggests closing many of those user-created access points — including at Farewell Bend, Columbia, First Street Rapids and Sawyer parks — to revegetate the riverbanks. The district will also consider closing designated river access points at Miller’s Landing and Columbia parks.

Bodo said Columbia Park, for example, was developed as a put-in when Bend was much smaller. However, the teensy neighborhood greenspace’s popularity has far exceeded its capacity. People like to drop tubes in the water and jump off the nearby footbridge.

“It’s kind of gotten a little bit wild, I’d say, at that location,” she said.

The park district wants to instead encourage use of other access points through expansion, restoration and improvement projects. It may also create more access points. The district has allocated $20,000 for the work.

Among the highest priorities are building an accessible boat launch at Riverbend Park, enlarging the beach and finding a better location for off-leash dogs.

The nonprofit Oregon Adaptive Sports, which works to expand outdoor recreation opportunities for people with disabilities, worked with the city to develop the project proposal at Riverbend. Executive director Pat Addabbo said the park is well suited for accessibility because of surrounding infrastructure that already exists.

“There’s plenty of accessible parking. There’s really nice accessible restrooms and pathways all around the park. And it’s a nice, fairly calm stretch of river that’s super popular with all sorts of different paddle sports,” Addabbo said.

Related: Mt. Bachelor’s adaptive skiing offers access to all

He added that Oregon Adaptive Sports was grateful the park district made accessibility a priority in the planning process.

“The lack of inclusion of individuals with disabilities in planning and design of outdoor recreation venues or facilities is often one of the biggest barriers for individuals with disabilities to successfully recreating outside,” Addabbo said.

The park district is asking members of the public to take a survey that will help determine which projects move forward. It is available in English and Spanish. The survey closes Feb. 28.

The public can also take part in three virtual meetings, two in English and one in Spanish. Dates, times and meeting links are available on the project website.

The park district plans to release an updated list of proposals based on user feedback this summer.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to distinguish the Bend Park and Recreation District from the city of Bend.

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An aerial view of a body of water.