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Bend Parks closes Whitewater Park passageway over safety issues


The Bend Park and Recreation District announced Thursday it is immediately closing the “passageway” channel of the new Bend Whitewater Park — likely for the summer — in the wake of numerous complaints from river floaters who were injured or upset by the rapids in the channel.

With record hot temperatures, the first weekend in June drew close to 3,000 floaters. Bend Parks and Rec officials said this weekend was the first opportunity they had to test the water park’s new passageway channel designed for tubers. While many river-goers said they loved the passageway, others were left scared.

“A lot of tubes were turning over, a lot of scrapes and bruises and that’s really not the experience we were expecting to have,” said park district Executive Director Don Horton.

The park district said in its announcement it “is taking action to evaluate the safety and overall experience of its new Bend Whitewater Park. “

“As an immediate step, the Passageway channel at the park will be closed beginning today while evaluations are conducted,” the agency said. “The passageway is likely to be closed throughout the summer season.

“Everything we do as an organization is for the enrichment of this community, and we can do better here,” Horton said.

“The Bend Whitewater Park’s Passageway channel is not meeting expectations, and we’re hearing about safety concerns, so it is being closed while we re-evaluate its function. We have not yet met our high goals for this project,” Horton said.

“The early season river activity has provided opportunity for feedback from many users and observers,” the announcement said.

“We deeply appreciate the input received in the past few days, because it is helping us serve the community better,” Horton said “Many people have been enjoying the Passageway and we appreciate the support from people who may be disappointed by this decision. It’s clear that this is not the passageway experience we set out to create, and we need to regroup and see if it can be improved.”

River 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. New signage and barriers have been added along the river to indicate the change and to prevent floaters from going down the channel.

River users appeared to have mixed reactions to the move.

“I think its a shame that they’ve shut it down,” said kayaker James Hubner.

But another river-goer said, “Until they can get the issues under control, I think its best they shut it down and make readjustments on it.”

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Here’s the rest of the park district’s announcement

The park district said the decision to close the Passageway channel to floaters was made in consultation with Bend Paddle Trail Alliance leaders, who are supportive of the closure.

“The Bend Whitewater Park is the first in the Pacific Northwest and is unique to our geologic area. It’s quite typical in these types of projects to need to make adjustments,” said Justin Rae, president of Bend Paddle Trail Alliance. “BPTA plans to be involved as Bend Park and Recreation District enlists additional experts to evaluate options for improvements.”

The Bend Whitewater Park’s Whitewater channel will remain open for expert river users who enter from downriver at McKay Park for whitewater kayaking, surfing and paddleboarding. However, floating through the area from upstream is not permitted, officials said.

“Early communications about the bond measure proposal and the project described a ‘safe passageway,’ and Bend Park and Recreation District is holding itself accountable on delivering quality park and recreation experiences for the community,” the park district said.

The current Passageway includes a series of Class I and Class II rapids to accommodate an approximate 8-foot drop in elevation in a 300-foot stretch of the river. The channel also serves as a fish ladder providing passage that will continue to be part of the project.

A timeline is in process for additional evaluations by the engineering firm that designed the park, swift water rescue experts and other experts to provide insights and recommendations. As evaluations occur, BPRD will update the public on status and timeline developments.

To begin the process, on Thursday, sandbags were installed in the whitewater channel to reduce safety hazards previously identified and to improve performance of the surf wave features used by whitewater enthusiasts.

“I think the sandbags really helped things a lot. Usually when I’m out here I’m picking up surfboards because the surfboards are floating down because the surfers are loosing their boards. Today i only picked up one,” said Hubner.

For floaters:

It is required to exit prior to the Colorado Ave. Bridge. To portage, follow temporary detour signs to walk on the sidewalk on the west side of Shevlin Hixon Road to reenter the river at McKay Park.
Wear a life jacket. They are required for all boaters, paddleboarders and children 12 years and under, and are recommended for everyone.
Consider your own and your children’s abilities before entering the water and always supervise children in and around the water.
Use equipment intended for river recreation. Rental equipment is available at Riverbend Park and local retailers. Complimentary use of life jackets for children 12 and under is available at the Riverbend Park rental trailer.

Whitewater kayakers, surfers and paddleboarders:

Access to the Whitewater channel is from downriver at McKay Park or Miller’s Landing Park. Do not access the channel from upriver or via the habitat channel.
The river-left (west) island is for line-up. There is no public access to the river-right island.
Life jackets and whistles are required for all boaters and paddleboarders.
Helmets are recommended. Board leashes, however, should not be used as they can get caught on underwater elements.
Always scout the conditions as river flows and wave features change frequently.
Consider the waves above and below and plan your exit routes for each wave.
Check the Bend Whitewater Park Facebook page for updates and conditions at

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