An oven rack, a Smokey Bear Frisbee, a pair of board shorts and a still-unopened can of beer were pulled from the Deschutes River on Tuesday, part of a cleanup event coordinated by the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance.
Clad in dry suits and waders to brave the frigid waters, volunteers spent two hours Tuesday combing the river bottom below the Bend Whitewater Park, fishing out a wide variety of garbage.
Tuesday’s cleanup was scheduled to coincide with a stock run that creates lower water levels on the Deschutes through Bend.
At the end of each growing season, the irrigation canal system is shut down in order to replenish the reservoirs upstream. A few times each winter, the canals are switched on for a short time for a stock run, allowing downstream water users to fill up ponds used to provide water to their livestock.
Justin Rae, president of the Paddle Trail Alliance, said recent river cleanups seem to be making a dent in the problem. The group organized winter cleanups three years in a row but missed last year, Rae said.
In 2013, a leak in the dam below Newport Avenue dropped water levels so low that Drake Park became a mudflat split by a meandering river, allowing an even more intensive cleanup. Paddle Trail Alliance Vice President Jayson Bowerman recalled recovering shopping carts, bicycles, and even the wheel off a Ford Model T from Mirror Pond during that year’s cleanup.
The opening of the Bend Whitewater Park in late 2015 created a new kind of garbage problem on the Deschutes and shifted the group’s focus upstream.
The number of river floaters has been on the rise since the park opened, and the often bumpy ride through the park’s passageway channel has dislodged untold pairs of unsecured sunglasses, flip flops, cellphones and water bottles.
Bowerman said although the whitewater park has added to the garbage in the river, regular park visitors have been working to keep it clean — and even make a bit of money.
Over the summer, an enterprising group of kids took to snorkeling in the passageway channel, scooping up whatever items they could find. Trash went in the trash, Bowerman said, and items that could be returned to their rightful owners were returned. The rest they sold.
“I got a pair of $5 Ray-Bans, one scratch,” he said. “It was great! I’d never had a real pair of Ray-Bans before.”
Tuesday, volunteers Jen and Todd Kjellesvik patrolled the river on an oversized inflatable paddleboard, plucking debris from the bottom with a claw-tipped telescoping pole.
Jen Kjellesvik teaches paddleboarding and other river skills to local youth, and said in between instructions on technique and safety, she tries to make the point that it’s their responsibility to keep the river clean.
Tuesday’s modest haul of garbage is a good sign, she said.
“I think that message is getting out, because there’s not as much stuff as in past years,” she said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0387, email@example.com