Local government and businesses have rolled out the red carpet for river runners. Parks and Rec launched the Ride the River shuttle long before we had a public bus system. Sun Country Tours rents float tubes to families at Riverbend Park Beach. Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe has helped create a veritable SUP armada on the Deschutes.
As more tourists pour into Bend, they are packing in plenty of trash. Unfortunately, they're not packing it out. Two weekends ago, the beach at Miller's Landing was littered with deflated rafts and other detritus, prompting a lively discussion on social media about what should be done about it.
Parks and Recreation is responsible for the cleanup of park property, but they acknowledge that garbage removal doesn't happen daily at all parks and trails, and when visitors don't use designated garbage cans, it requires more time for the maintenance staff to clean it up versus doing other maintenance work.
The Deschutes runs through private property as well, and homeowners along the river are expected to clean up the mess that accumulates in their yards. Local volunteer groups host river clean-up events, but the day-to-day debris generated by river floaters isn't any one entity's responsibility. (See Angela Moore's news story on page 7.)
Ideally, everyone would pick up after themselves, and we should certainly encourage everyone to do so. But signs reminding people that their mother doesn't work here will only go so far. In order to keep the river clean, we're going to need to put public resources toward cleaning up after the increasing number of river runners who have been lured here by slick marketing campaigns, convenient river shuttles, and easy-to-rent innertubes.
We can't expect these visitors to "just know" where the trash bins are located along the river, or what to do with their rubbish once those bins have overflowed. What we can expect is escaped Crocs and Nalgenes, float-away flip-flops and beer bottles, and abandoned pool toys that sprang a leak on the lava rocks.
It's easy to feel outraged when we see piles of trash lining the beloved Deschutes, and it's convenient to blame the tourists who have discovered - and embraced—our perfect little drinking town with a mountain problem. But we'd be better off as a community if we stopped shaming visitors and assigned responsibility to clean up the mess that the floating hordes will inevitably leave behind.
Bend's patchwork approach to river cleanup is clearly inadequate to address the growing trash problem. As a community, we need to pool our resources to ensure that a single entity takes responsibility, is held accountable, and has adequate resources to do the job. Bend Parks and Rec or the City of Bend should lead the charge and take responsibility for developing a funding mechanism to address this problem, whether it be a surcharge or bond measure. We should not continue to rely on individual do-gooders and property owners to do a job that rightly belongs to government.