This year, in its first full summer season, more than 231,000 people floated through the Bend Whitewater Park passageway channel on inner tubes, kayaks or paddleboards.
That’s roughly 2,200 floaters each day between May 15 and Aug. 22, according to the Bend Park and Recreation District.
Repairs last winter that cost $534,803 addressed issues with people getting hurt, hung up on rocks, puncturing their tubes or getting dumped into the water.
“The floating experience is still a river, so there have been some instances of cuts and bumps on the rocks that staff have witnessed or heard about, but these instances are infrequent, and the feedback has been mostly positive this summer,” park district spokeswoman Julie Brown said.
A trail counter under the Colorado Avenue bridge tallied about 176,000 floaters through the passageway channel over three months and another 55,000 who approached the bridge but left the river and carried their boats to the McKay Park beach area.
Those numbers could even be 10 percent to 20 percent higher based on counts collected by staff members, Brown said.
Overall, the number of floaters increased over last summer. The trail counter was only active for three weeks in August 2016, but for that same period this summer the number of floaters almost doubled, Brown said.
Also, more floaters used the Cascades East Transit Ride-the-River shuttle between Drake Park and the Old Mill District. Floaters are able to continue to Drake Park without exiting the river at the old Colorado Avenue spillway, common practice before the whitewater park replaced the spillway.
Ride the River shuttle, which ends for the season Monday, has seen a steady increase in riders this summer. As of Aug. 14, the shuttle provided 34,298 rides. In summer 2016, the shuttle provided 30,031 rides. In 2015, 24,800 riders rode the shuttle.
At Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, which rents out tubes, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards from its Bend location on the river just south of the whitewater park, the rise in river users has caused a bump in business.
Brad Bennett, who works in the rental shop, said activity in the whitewater channel — a middle channel used by river surfers and kayakers — was slow in the beginning of summer. But he has seen the number of surfers grow since. On peak days, the park district estimates 200 to 300 surfers and kayakers used the whitewater channel’s four artificial waves.
“When it was first starting out, it was slow, and not many people knew about it or how it was being used,” Bennett said.
“But we definitely saw an increase in rentals in surf boards and boogie boards, and a lot of people are going down to the waves and testing them out.”
The Bend Whitewater Park, built, in part, with money from a $29 million bond passed by voters in 2012, opened in September 2015 but closed a month later for repairs.
The passageway channel closed in June 2016, after multiple reports of injuries and damaged floating equipment.
Last winter, construction crews made adjustments to the passageway channel and the whitewater channel. Boulders were placed in the passageway to direct water through the center of the channel, keeping floaters from getting stuck or flipping over.
Floaters reported having problems last summer staying in the center of the channel.
In addition to repairs, more staff is at the river park monitoring the floaters’ experience. Two wave shapers split their time constantly adjusting the air pressure in 26 inflatable bladders that move underwater gates up and down, changing the water level and the size and shape of the waves.
Beach hosts are keeping an eye on floaters upstream in the Riverbend Park beach area.
The park district continues to share safety suggestions for floaters in the Whitewater Park through signs, handouts, advertisements, word of mouth and information on its website and social media, Brown said.
“The primary concerns of last season have been addressed, and the expectations about what the experience will be are more widely known by residents and visitors,” Brown said.
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