By Abby Spegman

The Bulletin

The channel for floaters at the Bend Whitewater Park closed Thursday and will remain closed all summer because of safety concerns, Bend Park & Recreation District announced Thursday.

“They are way too many people turning over in whatever they are choosing to float on. A lot of times these are young children,” said Don Horton, executive director of the park district. “They’re having a hard time recovering and getting their tube back and getting back in the channel.”

Last weekend’s high temperatures brought thousands out to the Whitewater Park, which has a floater channel with a series of drops, a whitewater channel with standing waves and one with slow-moving water to provide wildlife habitat.

Earlier this week Horton had said the park district would not modify the floater channel. Since then district staff received dozens of complaints from users who tipped over, prompting the closure for the season.

The park on the Deschutes River opened in September and immediately faced criticism from some users. Over the winter officials adjusted waves in the whitewater channel and added rocks in the floater channel to act as bumpers, keeping floaters in the middle of their channel.

Horton said the park district did not hear about concerns with tipping over in September, but users this weekend reported the drops were too dramatic.

Engineers will look at the drops and ways to improve them, as well as ways to educate users about what equipment to bring down the floater channel, Horton said. Any changes would have to wait until October, when the water is lower.

“It was a hard decision for us to make, but given the number of concerns we’re hearing from users, we want to make sure what we have here is a safe experience for people,” Horton said, adding he was not aware of anyone seriously injured at the park over the weekend.

Users can continue to float as in past years by exiting the river prior to the Colorado Avenue bridge and re-entering the river at McKay Park. Signs will be added along the river to indicate the change.

The whitewater channel will remain open for kayaking, surfing and paddleboarding; floating through the whitewater channel is not permitted.

The floater channel includes a series of Class I and Class II rapids to accommodate an 8-foot drop in elevation over 300 feet of river. Its 10 drops also provides passage for fish; a long, ramplike drop in place of the series of rapids would be impassable for young fish and accelerate floaters to dangerous speeds.

Horton said Monday users over the weekend with the right equipment fared better than others. That includes sturdy inflatable tubes or whitewater kayaks, not stand-up paddleboards or flatwater kayaks, which can get hung up on rocks, and not cheap pool toys and air mattresses that can pop.

The $9.7 million whitewater park was part of the park district’s $29 million bond passed in 2012. The floater channel was billed as a safe passage for tubing, paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing, according to the voters pamphlet statement.

In announcing the summer closure on Thursday, Horton said the district had not met its goals for the project.

— Reporter: 541-617-7837,