Sunriver's Harper Bridge gets busier, prompts safety concerns

Deschutes County analyzing safer parking options

Harper Bridge traffic cause for safety concerns

SUNRIVER, Ore. - Sunriver's Harper Bridge boat launch is a popular spot for river floaters, but it's causing issues. Deschutes County commissioners discussed pedestrian safety Monday as more visitors flock to the area, causing parking issues and larger crowds, and putting pedestrian safety at risk. 

The county Road Department presented  commissioners on Monday with a proposal for an enhanced parallel parking alternative for the area. 

The alternative could add 25 parking spaces along each side of the widened road, which would keep river floaters farther away from the main part of the road. 

Officials say too many people are competing for limited spaces along the gravel shoulders.

However, this plan widens the road as far as it can within county-owned land. 

"The current situation is unsafe," Road Department Director Chris Doty said. "Even if we improve it in the right of way, that is not ideal, and I think everybody as an understanding of that.

"There are just so few options for the board to consider involving another launch facility, given conflicts with the Forest Service property and private property, that the bridge is the only place they have to do that right now, and the public is just flocking to that location and creating the issues." 

Commissioners Tony DeBone and Tammy Baney are interested in the parallel parking option, but also want to have more discussions with the Forest Service and Sunriver Homeowners Association. The third commissioner, Phil Henderson, said he needed more time to figure out what he thought of this alternative. 

The increase in use means more people are carrying tubes down and across the road on their way to the river, which puts them at risk of getting hit by a car. 

John Holland, who lives near the boat launch, is a member of the Sunriver Chamber of Commerce. He said the noise is increasing, and the chamber believes the boat launch should be shut down. 

"The traffic is ridiculously unsafe," Holland said. "Everyone I talk to thinks it should be shut down. One person getting killed there, and the liability goes onto us as owners of property in Deschutes County. And that's the kind of thing I am trying to stop. I am also trying to save a life."

A visitor to the area also expressed concerns about the traffic. 

"I suppose my biggest worry would be the speed of the traffic going by," Amy Sutkus said. "Parking is okay close up here, but a little bit further down, if there is a lot of people, it's not ideal." 

The county considered using land across the river, but the Forest Service owns that land. According to the Forest Service, the existing Wild and Scenic Plan sets the number of access points and the number of visitors that are allowed in the corridor. 

Kevin Larkin, Bend-Fort Rock District ranger on the Deschutes National Forest, said, "Fom the Forest Service side, we understand that there are different demands for the river, and we know there are demands for recreational access.

"We also know that it is a congressionally designated wild and scenic river, and so protection is another priority for the citizens of the United States," Larkin said.

The commissioners have yet to make a decision on the issue. 

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