Last month, Jaik Goff was fishing on the Deschutes when he saw a large piece of black plastic floating downstream from the Colorado Whitewater Project. He quickly sprung into action, grabbed ahold of a sheet of construction material he says was 20-by-30 feet. and dragged it to the shore.
After heaving it onto the riverbank, Goff says he came upon an unidentified Bend Park and Recreation District employee and asked him to take the rubbish away. That's when he says the Parks employee got testy, telling Goff not to concern himself with what's in the river.
But telling Goff not to worry about what's in the river is like telling him not to breath. The carpenter, who lives near Riverside Market, has become an unofficial caretaker of the river, frequently pulling out trash left behind by construction crews and tourists alike. "We have no river keeper," Goff says, noting that many large river's have someone dedicated to watching over them. "It's basically my job."
On a recent afternoon, Goff is listing off the items he's found in the river—black plastic sheeting, remnants of white sand bags, flip flops, cans, sunglasses, deflated tubes—when he sees something in the water. He immediately reaches for a nearby canoe, getting it in position to launch out and grab what appears to be an errant flip flop. It turns out to be only a branch, and Goff transitions seamlessly back to opining about the state of the river.
"People seem to think they don't have to be liable because they don't live here," he says, noting that a similar phenomenon occurs at Wanoga Sno-Park, where visitors toss used sleds in a pile when they are done with them.
When he first moved to the area about two years ago, Goff says people thought he was a little strange. But over time, his neighbors grew to appreciate his efforts to keep the river clean. And while he's quick to chastise tourists and other visitors to the river, he is particularly disappointed when he sees debris from public agencies.
"I pulled up three white [sand] bags," Goff recalls. "With all the silt coming in, they're getting buried."
As for the construction debris, Bend Parks Landscape Architect Chelsea Schneider says Bend Park and Recreation District wants to know if it's making its way down the river.
"As soon as these things are heard about we want to get them taken care of," Schneider says. "As far as sand bags moving down stream, as people observe that let us know. That's definitely not something we want to continue to happen."
BPRD Construction Manager Brian Hudspeth says that the thick plastic sheeting Goff found is a high-density polyethylene plastic used to prevent the erosion of habitat on the right side of the river when flows were increasing.
"We're down there picking it up," Hudspeth says, contesting the notion that BPRD is failing to address construction debris in the river. "We're trying to this as quickly, cleanly, and humanely as possible."
He says litter patrols began after BPRD learned that pieces of white plastic from sand bags used in the project's construction were being found elsewhere in the river.
"We are doing active litter patrols for construction debris," Hudspeth explains, adding that they go out weekly in kayaks. "It's inevitable that stuff gets down there."
Not only is there construction debris coming down the river, but removing the dam has also dislodged rubbish that accumulated under the dam over time, like river floaters' flip flops and beer cans. "We watch it go through the job site all the time," Hudspeth says.
But Goff can't just sit and watch the trash pass by. He says he's hoping to get together a group dedicated to defending the Deschutes, "like the Minutemen of the Revolution," who can stand up for the river and come to its defense on bike, shouting, "The tourists are coming! The tourists are coming!" He says the local Deschutes-focused nonprofits "lack backbone." But more than anything, he attributes the lack of care for the river to people who "care more about a wide screen than a wide stream."
"I'm thinking people are thinking the Deschutes will wash away their sins," Goff says. "But there's not enough water here to wash away their sins."
CORRECTIONBend Park and Recreation District Don Horton recently reached out to inform the Source that the employee who rebuffed Jaik Goff’s concerns about debris in the river [“Don’t Love That Dirty Water,” (7/1)] was a seasonal employee who is no longer employed by BPRD. Horton says that Parks Events Specialist Mark Johnson spoke to Goff later, apologizing for the other employee’s behavior and offering his business card for further concerns. The Source attempted to verify Goff’s portrayal of Johnson’s role in the interaction before going to press, but a message left for Johnson was never returned. We regret the error and have edited the story online to reflect this information.