Julia Foran, of Bend, watches as her dog Wesley explores along the Deschutes River while visiting the Riverbend Dog Park on Thursday.

A  nonprofit organization for dogs in Central Oregon is challenging a proposal to limit off-leash access to the Deschutes River in Bend parks to one location.

Bend Park & Recreation District is in the middle of a two-year process to update its River Access and Habitat Restoration Plan, which includes a proposal to create a permanent off-leash access point upstream from the existing site in Riverbend Park. The new site would replace the existing site, said Julie Brown, park district spokesperson.

Two other seasonal locations are also being considered in Riverbend Park and Farewell Bend Park.

But members of DogPAC believe if the district continues to limit permanent off-leash access to a single site, dog owners will continue to find informal access sites to let their dogs swim in the river. Both the park district and DogPAC are concerned that some unofficial locations could have steep, unsafe river banks or access where the river’s current is too fast.

It would be better to have several approved access sites, said DogPAC member Val Gerard.

“DogPAC is trying to help BPRD reduce that informal access by identifying multiple approved sites,” Gerard said.

DogPAC is encouraging residents to share their opinions with the park board before the board’s next meeting Jan. 19, when district staff is scheduled to present recommendations for off-leash access.

“We would like the board to understand how important this issue is to the dog owners of Bend, who comprise about half the population,” Gerard said.

A total of 20,588 dogs are currently licensed in Deschutes County. Some estimates show a similar amount of dogs are unlicensed, making the actual number of dogs much higher.

Brown said the district is welcoming public feedback on the park plan, which wouldn’t be finished until the fall.

“These discussions are ongoing, and there will be more opportunities for dog owners, and all public input, in the months ahead,” Brown said.

The district is planning to change the off-leash access point in Riverbend Park because it is on Old Mill District property. The proposed new location upstream would be on park district-owned property, Brown said.

DogPac members say the new site would only be a fraction of the riverside park property in Bend.

“Limiting off-leash access to a single 30-40-foot site in 8 miles of riverside park property, while providing many access points for boaters, floaters, fishermen, and other recreationists, amounts to treating dog owners as second class citizens,” DogPAC members wrote on the group’s website.

DogPAC believes most most dog owners want more off-leash river access.

Last summer, the group sent a survey to 430 people and 84% responded that they let their dogs swim or wade in the river and want to continue to have access to do that in Bend.

“Recreating with dogs off-leash is a valid form of outdoor recreation,” DogPAC members wrote.

Reporter: 541-617-7820,

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