Warm Springs charging new fee for Deschutes boaters

By Dylan J. Darling The Bulletin Published May 12, 2014 at 12:01AM

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs plan to charge a new fee for boaters on the Lower Deschutes River near Maupin.

Starting May 21 the tribes are set to charge $1 per boater putting in or taking out at Harpham Flat and $1 per boater taking out at Sandy Beach, the last take-out along the river before Sherars Falls, said Clay Penhollow, spokesman for the tribes. The tribes own the land at Harpham Flat, about 5 miles upstream from Maupin, and Sandy Beach, about 5 miles downstream of town, but the areas are not part of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

The new charge for boaters is a “use fee,” he said. “The tribes have owned these lands for 20 years or more, and the tribes have never really had any compensation for that.”

Harpham Flat and Sandy Beach are both in the river’s Segment 2 and the run between them is known as “Splash and Giggle,” Penhollow said.

About 45,000 boaters a year use the two spots along the river, meaning the new fee could bring in around $90,000, said Scott Hege, chairman of the Wasco County Board of Commissioners. Hege is also chairman of the Lower Deschutes River Management Group, which is made up of agencies that manage the river. These include the tribes, the Bureau of Land Management and Oregon State Parks.

The tribes have talked about a fee for use at Harpham Flat and Sandy Beach for years, Hege said, but there long has been the issue of how to collect the money.

The tribes have said they’ll put in collection boxes by May 21 but there still are questions, such as who will enforce the payment and how.

“I think there is a lot of concerns of how it will work and how it will be implemented,” Hege said.

The fee is of particular concern to rafting and fishing guides who use Harpham Flat and Sandy Beach, he said. Many of them have already set their prices for the boating season and have printed brochures, so they may have to cover the new cost themselves rather than ask their clients to pay it.

The stretch of the river is popular for rafting and driftboat fishing. Boaters already pay for a pass to float, which costs $8 per person for weekend days from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. This year that is from between May 24 and Aug. 31.

The new tribal fee eventually could be incorporated into the boater pass, according to an informational website maintained by Oregon State Parks. “The Tribe and the Bureau of Land Management have agreed to incorporate this new fee into the Boater’s Pass Website pay system in future years to allow for a convenient single point of payment for boaters,” reads a note on the website.

Just under 10.5 miles separate Harpham Flat and Sandy Beach, according to descriptions of runs along the river on the American Whitewater website. The North Carolina-based nonprofit advocates for the restoration and conservation of whitewater around the country. The run includes class IV rapids.

“When you hear people talk about doing a day trip on the lower Deschutes, this is the section they are running. And if you are in the area, this is a great run throughout the summer. But be prepared to share the river with dozens of rafts,” according to American Whitewater. “There are several great rapids on this section packed relatively close together.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com