(Update: Adding video, comments from Tumalo Creek employee)
Highest demand for river use as people want to get outside
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- It was a warm and busy day on the Deschutes River Friday as floating season arrives. Floating the river is a popular pastime for Central Oregonians and visitors alike.
Saturday marks the first day of Park and Float, a service offered by Tumalo Creek, a water sport rental company.
People can rent inner tubes, kayaks and paddleboards to spend a day on the river. The service offers shuttle rides to and from the river access points.
Cascades East Transit has partnered with Tumalo Creek to provide the Ride the River shuttle service, which helps alleviate high volumes of traffic and full parking lots, a representative with Tumalo Creek told NewsChannel 21 on Friday.
With warmer temperatures and eased COVID-19 restrictions, people are itching to get outside and enjoy all that Central Oregon has to offer.
An employee at Tumalo Creek says they're expecting lots of people to be on the river this year.
"I think it's one of those activities like everything else -- everyone's just dying to get outside, we've been cooped up, have gone through some really stressful times," Kelli Whittman said. "I think just the idea of going outside and being with friends and family is definitely at its highest demand that we've ever had."
Tumalo Creek is adding a mandatory $1 fee this year for all rentals. That fee will go to the Deschutes Watershed Council to repair the stretch of river damaged by excessive use. Sunscreen, erosion and a lot of trash take a toll on the river throughout the summer.
Whittman says they already had planned to implement this fee pre-COVID -- and now, with even more people expected to float the river, they want to help maintain it.
"We're hoping to give back to our community and kind of alleviate any of that loss or repairing that area as well, so we can continue to do this activity for several years and not lose the beauty of the Deschutes." Whittman said.
Last year about 200,000 people went down the river. The summer before -- pre-COVID -- there were an estimated 240,000 floaters.
It costs $21 to rent a tube and take the shuttle. Masks are required at all times when riding the shuttles, and spots will be limited.
Tumalo Creek encourages people to reserve their tube and spot ahead of time, to ensure they can enjoy time on the river, as the demand is high.