The first hot weekend of the year drew hundreds to the Bend Whitewater Park, and no small number experienced popped float tubes, overturned boats and minor injuries as part of their adventure.
Bend Park & Recreation District Executive Director Don Horton said the weekend was a test for the park, which was remodeled over the winter due to concerns over inadequate waves in the whitewater channel and safety hazards in the passageway channel. Horton said the district is aware of ongoing safety concerns but has no current plans to make any further modifications to the passageway channel. The whitewater channel can be modified more readily through a series of inflatable bladders used to adjust the shape of the waves.
“Last weekend was the first really warm weekend and an opportunity for us to see how the park performed,” Horton said. “And for the people who were using the right kind of equipment, it seemed to be working really well.”
River users with what Horton calls “the wrong kind of equipment” have been a recurring issue at the whitewater park.
The passageway channel was not designed for most stand-up paddleboards or flatwater kayaks, he said, both of which are prone to getting hung up on rocks due to their long and rigid construction. Floaters are likely to pop cheap pool toys and air mattresses and should consider a sturdier inflatable craft intended for river use.
In the voters pamphlet statement for the $29 million 2012 bond measure that voters passed to pay for the $9.7 million whitewater park, the park district stated the improvements would “provide safe passage for people using the river for tubing, paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing.” The district also originally described the channel adjacent to McKay Park as the “safe passage channel” but has since switched to describing it as the “passageway channel.”
Horton said “passageway channel” is a more accurate description, less subject to individual interpretation as to what safe means, and that the channel is passable by skilled stand-up paddleboarders using boards intended for whitewater use.
The passageway channel for floaters also provides passage for fish, replacing a small fish ladder affixed to the old dam. Horton said the design of the channel with its 10 small drops suits the needs of both fish and human river users.
The river drops about 8 feet while traveling approximately 300 feet from above Colorado Avenue to below the whitewater park. Horton said a long, ramplike drop in place of the passageway channel would be impassable for young fish and would accelerate floaters to dangerous speeds.
Horton said the district is monitoring input from river users and is encouraging first-time users to inspect the park before floating through.
The park district at one time discussed possible age restrictions for use of the whitewater park but decided against it. Horton said the district has no capacity to enforce such a restriction, and some children are able to navigate the park’s features where others are not.
Parents are advised to use their best judgment before taking children through the park, Horton said, and life jackets are recommended, although not required, for kids riding in tubes. State law requires children 12 and under to wear life jackets in canoes, kayaks and other craft regarded as boats.
The district is unaware of any incidents at the whitewater park requiring immediate medical attention, Horton said. A call to the Bend Fire Department was not returned Monday.
Horton said the design of the park was never intended to provide total safety to all users at all times, and visitors need to be aware that every section of the Deschutes River is potentially hazardous.
“This really is a wild experience; it’s just like if you go to Mt. Bachelor, your ski conditions are different every day,” he said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0387, firstname.lastname@example.org