*Editors Note: The bill has now successfully passed the House and moves to the Senate.**
House Bill 2027 impedes public engagement processes on the Deschutes River Trail
A bill now before the Oregon House—HB2027—would imperil planned expansion of the Deschutes River Trail by prohibiting the development of a proposed pedestrian and bike bridge across the Deschutes River in this area; more importantly, it would pre-empt public engagement processes. Our community has enjoyed the Deschutes River Trail for decades. On any day, you can find runners, walkers, cyclists, bird watchers, dog walkers, anglers, and water enthusiasts sharing the trail and soaking up the natural experience.
Being in nature improves one's health and feeds the soul. Central Oregon is fortunate to have hundreds of miles of public trails in the area; however, there is something special about local trails in town that connect neighbors and open opportunities for non-motorized transportation. Health, community, and environmental benefits are among the significant public goods of the Deschutes River Trail, but they are in jeopardy if this current state legislation moves forward.
Connecting the Deschutes River Trail to the U.S. Forest Service land on the south boundary of Bend has been envisioned by the community for decades. This goal is referenced in several public planning documents, including the Bend Park and Recreation District's Trails Master Plan, the City of Bend's Transportation System Plan, the Deschutes River Trail Action Plan, and the Bend Riverway Community Vision. Voters in Bend approved a bond-funded project in 2012 to eventually connect the communities of Tumalo and Sunriver via the Deschutes River Trail, and a 2014 questionnaire of surrounding neighborhoods found that 88 percent of respondents would use the trail and bridge if it were built.
Oregon State Parks regulates "Scenic Waterways" across the state, including a specific segment of the Deschutes River from the Central Oregon Irrigation intake upstream into the Deschutes National Forest. The Bend Parks and Recreation District would like to consider a possible bridge in the reach of the Deschutes River just outside Bend city limits as a key last piece of the Deschutes River Trail. The easy sections of the trail are complete, but the few remaining sections to complete the route from Sunriver to Tumalo are complex.
Our community's use of the Deschutes River Trail reminds me of the situation on the Oregon Coast when, in 1967, Oregonians committed to providing public access along the coast. The same concept of connectivity and public access along the remaining areas of the Deschutes River Trail deserves a conversation with all stakeholders before options are prematurely foreclosed. Now is the time to voice your opinions to our elected officials about the value of the Deschutes River Trail and what preserving public access to it means to the community.
The District has a reputation of well-designed and maintained trails throughout the community and is committed to balancing public access and protection of our natural resources. We are dedicated to public engagement and would continue to seek community involvement and address concerns if a project is possible in the future. Our preference is always to negotiate and work together on solutions.
Working together to find a way to finish the Deschutes River Trail will bring lasting benefits to our community.