Renovations to the Colorado Avenue Dam are rushing forward. On Monday night, the Bend Planning Commission gave approval to Bend Parks and Rec's Colorado Dam Safe Passage Project, a bid to offer both safe passage and a new whitewater experience.
The project will open up the waterway between the Old Mill District and Drake Park, meaning those riding down the Deschutes River won’t have to get out of the water to float on downstream.
It will allow riders of the waterway to stay in their rafts, kayaks and tubes without having to pull over and walk to continue to ride.
"Yeah, it is kind of a little annoying sometimes, having to walk around,” floater Garrett Apland said Monday evening. “But I love the river, so I won't give it up.”
It's a common walk for floaters of the Deschutes in Bend, but one the Bend Planning Commission took on a site tour Monday evening. along with Bend Park and Recreation Board members. The commission explored the area to see how some of the planned improvements of the safe passage project could come together.
The proposal is to add three lanes of water traffic to replace the rocky waterfall that has caught floaters as recently as this weekend, and directly took the life of a man in 2005.
"It's been a topic of conversation ever since floating became legal on the river,” said project architect Chelsea Schneider. “This is one of those barriers that exist that needs to be removed so folks can travel safely."
Alex Witt of Bend says he floats down the river twice a week over the summer. With added safety measures, plus a way to make lazily floating down the river a little bit lazier, he’s on board with the proposal.
"Considering all of the accidents that have happened with the spillway the way it is now, I think it would be a good change to see what would happen," he said.
Bend Park and Rec is still waiting for approval on a state and federal level, but pending any setbacks, construction could start this fall.
The passageway -- with a slow-moving channel, a whitewater route for kayakers and improved wildlife habitat on the other shoreline -- is projected to be open for floating freely by next summer.
Learn more about the project (and others funded with a voter-approved $29 million bond measure) at: http://www.bendparksandrec.org/info/About_Us/Potential-Bond-Measure/Colorado-Dam/