We paddled our kayaks past scores of inner-tubers and air-mattress riders as they floated lazily along the Deschutes River in Bend on a recent sunny afternoon.
Mark Schang worked hard to paddle upstream, while the float-tubers lay there, soaking in the rays and riding easily along with the current.
Riding the river can be done in many different ways, some requiring more physical exertion than others.
The Deschutes River Paddle Trail is designed for all river users, from extreme whitewater kayakers to the bikini-clad crowd that leisurely floats along the water.
The “trail” — designed to increase access and provide information for paddlers — includes the Deschutes River in Deschutes County, the Little Deschutes River, and nine of the largest Cascade Lakes. When complete, the trail will be an all-encompassing resource, identifying everything from the best spots to put in on lakes to dangerous areas to avoid on the Deschutes.
The Bend Paddle Trail Alliance was founded in 2005 and is working with the U.S. Forest Service, Bend Metro Park and Recreation District and other area groups to complete the trail.
“The trail contains sections that everybody can enjoy safely,” says Schang, a board member for the nonprofit BPTA. “There’s placid and flat to difficult and dangerous.
“Our goal is to educate and make people aware of where they are on the river, and include put-ins, take-outs, hazards on the river, points of interest, campsites and environmental issues.”
The BPTA will celebrate completion of two comprehensive guides to the Deschutes Paddle Trail with its third annual Paddle Day this Saturday at Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe paddle sports store in Bend. Throughout the day, Alder Creek employees and volunteers will lead paddling groups down various lake and river sections of the trail.
“It’s for people of all different skill levels,” says Schang of the event, “whether they want to paddle for the first time or get into some whitewater.”
While the Deschutes Paddle Trail includes several lakes and much of the river, the main thoroughfare is the stretch of the Deschutes in Bend from the Bill Healy Memorial Bridge downstream to Drake Park. This section is a focal point for the BPTA, which seeks to improve paddle-sport education and safety.
The paddle trail will eventually include informational kiosks and signs, much like those located at hiking and biking trailheads in Central Oregon.
A long-term goal of the BPTA is to make navigable the spillway under the Colorado Avenue bridge in Bend. Currently, river riders must portage, or carry their boats, around the bridge and put back into the river at McKay Park.
Schang says the BPTA also wants to build “play” features on the river just upstream from the spillway. These would allow whitewater kayakers and other river enthusiasts to perform tricks and maneuvers on the river right in town.
“It’s a series of waves that kayakers could surf on,” Schang explains. “One section would be for people with rafts and inner tubes, and one section would be for kayakers.”
After fighting the wind and the current, we turned around just upstream from the Healy Bridge in our kayaks after tempting fate in some riffles, which look tame from above while driving across the bridge. But to the beginning kayaker out on the water, the section is a bit intimidating. My flat-water kayak immediately felt tippy, and I headed back to calm water.
Moving downstream, we cruised past float-tubers and through a pack of Canada geese. A group of stand-up paddlers — the variety of river riders continues to grow — smiled as we passed.
While there is no shortage of river users, the BPTA hopes to introduce more people to kayaking and canoeing, while educating and informing by way of the paddle trail.
“It’s for everybody,” Schang says. “Anybody who uses the rivers or lakes, and all skill levels.”