In 2015, Bend Parks and Rec put forward a proposal to build a new footbridge across the upper Deschutes river to connect trails on both sides of the river. The bridge project was meant to provide a continuous trail from Sunriver to Tumalo, and serve a variety of outdoor enthusiats. Their initial public hearing found that members of the community overwhelmingly supported the project. The major obstacle they faced with the project was the area in question falls under the classification of a scenic beauty area, thus preventing the building of a bridge.
Bend Parks and Rec Prospoed a New Bridge
Chris Havel, head of the Parks and Rec department, said of the initial meeting to discuss redressing the scenic beauty rule, “If we change our rule, it doesn’t mean that suddenly a bike/ped crossing is going to go up across the river. It means that they can apply and then there will be a review of that application, to make sure it complies with all the other scenic waterway rules that apply on that stretch of the river.”
A Bill to Oppose the Project Was Proposed
From this point forward, the project seemed a given; that is until Representative Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver) proposed a bill in the state house to prevent the project altogether. In proposing the bill, Whisnant said publicly, “I’m not against trails; I’m not against bridges. But, my bill just says ‘you do not build a bridge in this Scenic Waterway part of the river.’” Whisnant’s decision has also been painted by the media as favoring wealthy landowners along the river who object to the project.
Bill Opposing Project Passed the Oregon House
The bill proposed by Whisnant passed the Oregon house. This marked a major victory to supplant the bridge project. Explained Christine Phillips, a local resident who testified on the house floor, “Bend Park and Rec’s use of condemnation or eminent domain as a tactic to threaten and intimidate Oregon landowners should be unacceptable in this state. They’re good at using innuendo and the press to insult ‘rich people who live on the river.’ How ironic that good land stewardship, ownership of property and fiscal responsibility, gets summed up as ‘rich people being greedy.’”
Not so, testified Bend Parks and Rec executive director Don Horton. In his testimony, he explained, “The project is a strongly held community desire. A tool in updating the district’s comprehensive plan was a statistically valid survey conducted in March and April of this year by ETC Institute indicates that the citizens of Bend favor the bridge, five to one. 72% of the respondents favor or strongly favor the bridge; while only 14% oppose or strongly oppose the bridge. The area that we’re looking at locating the bridge is on the US Forest Service property, so we’re not talking about it being on private property. We’ve always felt that a public facility ought to be on public property. And, one side of where the bridge will be located is an off-leash dog area that is 640 acres in size and has more people and off-leash dogs than any other dog park that we have in our community.”
Bend Parks and Rec Bridge Project Unlikely to See the Light of Day
Today, Bend Parks and Rec await the final vote from the Oregon Senate. If the bill passes, the project is dead in the water. But, even if the bill does not pass the Oregon Senate, and the bill is overturned, it would not mean a new bridge for the community. What this bill has done is effectively halt the process that would have normally taken place to make a rules change for the bridge. The rule change, to permit the bridge in a designated scenic beauty area, is a battle that is far from won, or even begun. Supporters of the project looked forward to expanded outdoor access and amenities, including a public park with off leash area for dogs. So it seems, this will not happen any time soon.
Read more about this story at local station KBND.