By Scott Hammers

The Bulletin

Sunriver Police Chief Marc Mills was shopping in Bend recently when a fellow shopper struck up a conversation, asking Mills about floating the Deschutes River through Sunriver.

The long, lazy float sounded great, Mills recalled the man saying, but for one thing: Where are you supposed to park?

Through much of the summer, lines of parked cars stretch along Spring River Road, on the east approach to Harper Bridge. On either side of the bridge, well-worn dirt paths lead down to the water’s edge, where canoeists, kayakers and inner-tube floaters have launched their craft for years.

Safety around the informal boat launch concerns the chief and others.

“It’s a problem. I think it’s a problem for all law enforcement and anybody that has to do with public safety,” Mills said.

Ron Bures, an area resident who’s proposed building a public boat ramp on a slice of the 17½ acres he owns northwest of the bridge in exchange for the right to build an RV park, said the congestion from people parking near Harper Bridge gets worse each summer.

As a condition of approving the plan for Crosswater, a golf community directly south of Sunriver across Spring River Road, the county required the developers to dedicate new land for a formal boat launch, according to county documents provided by Bures.

The documents suggest the county was aware the informal launch at Harper Bridge was inadequate for such a facility, but in the end, the developers were allowed to dedicate the Harper Bridge site to meet the county’s conditions.

Peter Russell with the county’s Community Development Department said even if the county erred by not requiring Crosswater to identify a suitable public launch site, it’s too late to revisit that decision. Developing a boat ramp is not an urgent priority for the county, he said.

“We would not prevail in a court of law if we went back to Crosswater and said we need more land,” Russell said.

Molly Johnson, spokeswoman for Sunriver Resort, which owns the golf course and real estate development arm at Crosswater, said she’s unaware of any serious discussions of future boat ramps among resort management. Sunriver Resort owns the land south of Spring River Road immediately adjacent to the river.

Because Deschutes County doesn’t have a parks and recreation department or budget, Russell said, it would look to the Oregon Marine Board for grant funding if it were to build a boat launch. However, as the Marine Board is focused largely on providing amenities to larger, trailered boats, Russell said, it would require more land than is currently available to build a facility that meets the board’s standards.

Wayne Shuyler, boating facilities section manager for the Oregon Marine Board, said Harper Bridge is a challenging site, but could potentially be developed to accommodate a boat ramp that meets Marine Board standards.

A few years ago, the Marine Board designed some possible layouts for a ramp and parking area at Harper Bridge, Shuyler said. All of the designs would have required the Sunriver Owners Association to commit some property to the project, he said, but the Marine Board was unable to get any partners to sign on.

“It was kind of left with, unless there was a change of heart with the county or the homeowners association having some funds, nobody was going to move forward with that,” Shuyler said.

Brooke Snavely, spokesman for the owners association, said Shuyler’s version of events was a fair representation of the issue. The land just north of Spring River Road is a common area, collectively owned by members of the owners association.

“We had a lot of feedback from neighbors who lived next to the proposed area, and they hated it, they hated it,” he said. “And I can’t blame anyone who lives next to a proposed boat ramp.”

Mills said an improved boat launch near Harper Bridge could solve some of the parking problems, but it could exacerbate others. Sunriver police have often observed floaters exiting the water downstream of the bridge, Mills said, dragging their boats across common areas and private property.

Launching or pulling out of the water outside of a designated boat launch is officially prohibited in Sunriver, Mills said, while the Sunriver Marina is restricted to lodge guests only and the next-closest takeout is miles farther downstream.

“If you float from Harper Bridge and you take out clear down at the canoe takeout, or on down to Benham Falls, it’s anywhere from a four-to-six-hour-plus float,” Mills said. “It’s a long float, and people figure out a way to get out of the river.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0387,