Pickin’ & Paddlin’
A Fundraiser for the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance in Bend, OR
By Laurel Brauns
There are few places in the country that can boast such a tight-knit and bountiful paddling community as the one that is bursting at the seams in Bend, Oregon. Drive through Bend on a summer evening, and most folks will have a boat of some sort tied to their roof–or hanging from their trailer–waiting for the sun to rise so they can get out on the rivers or lakes of the Cascades.
Thrill seekers will run Meadow Camp (a Class IV whitewater paddle) at least two or three times a week, plunging through the glacial run-off of the Deschutes River as it descends through the Cascade Mountains.
Those that are out there for scenery and exercise pride them selves on daily treks up to the Cascade Lakes – an incomparable series of alpine lakes that could keep a flatwater paddler happy for a lifetime.
Both of these communities mix in harmony and revelry during the summer at the monthly Pickin’ & Paddlin’ Music Series and Demo Day, hosted by Bend’s largest paddle shop, Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe. Located on the banks of the Deschutes River, this store (and Pickin’ & Paddlin’), have become a gathering place for both flatwater and whitewater enthusiasts alike.
Take a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard out for a test paddle on the Deschutes River through the Old Mill District, and you’ll be in good company on a hot summer afternoon—thousands of tubers and boaters navigate this stretch of river everyday in the height of summer. (The is the “Paddlin’” half of Pickin’ & Paddlin.’)
After the boats get put away, the kegs get tapped, and micro-brews are poured from some of the best breweries in the United States… that happen to be just across the river from the shop.
So let the Pickin’ begin! As the sun begins to descend behind the Cascade Mountains in the distance, some of Central Oregon’s best bluegrass bands take the stage, entertaining the jubilant crowd long into the night.
But beneath the music, revelry and partying, there is a dark undercurrent, a solemness that cuts through the crowd when Tumalo Creek’s owner and manager Geoff Frank steps up to the microphone half-way through the night. Frank recounts the story of the time he pulled a 70-year-old women from out of the rock pilings of the Colorado Dam, a mill-era spill way just yards downstream from the party. Her grandchildren and husband had gone through the spillway, but she was pinned underwater on one of the I-Beams and was unconscious from a head injury when Frank first found her limp arm under the rapids. After what seemed like minutes of struggling to pull her out by her arm, the woman came to, and with the help of a friend, Frank was able to bear hug her out of the water.
While that story and many others had happy endings (dozens of tubers have swum through the spillway), the very next day after he rescued the 70-year-old women, Frank’s phone rang. The staff at the shop was calling to tell him the news of someone who had not been so lucky. A young Japanese woman was not able to read the signs directing her to exit the river. Her foot became entrapped and she drowned in the strong currents.
Frank then tells the crowd that Pickin’ & Paddlin is a fundraiser for the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, the organization that is working towards creating a whitewater play park in place of the dangerous dam that was built in 1915. The dam was originally built to store logs for the Shevlin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon mills; today it is a dangerous hazard that has caused injury and death to a number of unsuspecting floaters on the Deschutes River.
The BPTA is working closely with Bend Parks and Rec and the Old Mill District to make the whitewater recreation area a reality—to be enjoyed by tubers, whitewater kayakers and stand up paddleboarders alike. Successful parks in other communities such as Missoula, Montana and Cascade, Idaho have brought millions of visitor dollars into their economies.
As engineering studies and designers work towards creating a plan for the park, the Pickin’ & Paddlin’ series has provided a tremendous show of community support for the project, something that will help win grants in the future. Just last summer, the organization brought in $10,000 in donations through the event and got hundreds of new paddlers out on the water as part of the boat demo portion of the evening.
The series has become a phenomenon with a life of it’s own—a party that everyone in town is invited to. For many, it’s one of the highlights of the summer.
Next time you’re in Bend, Oregon, come down to Pickin’ and Paddlin’ the last Wednesday of every month in the summer. After taking out a few boats for a test paddle, pick up one of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance pint glasses, fill ‘er up with a cold one, and kick off your shoes. You’ll have an unforgettable evening supporting a great cause.