Through swimming, floating, fishing and admiring the sparkles on the water, Douglas County residents showed their appreciation for the North Umpqua River at Whistler’s Bend Park on Saturday.
As groups gathered statewide near rivers to mark River Appreciation Day, Umpqua Watersheds hosted the local event. Several bands played throughout the day, including Sons of Soil, Rural Recharge and Alice DiMicele. Volunteers grilled and served oysters that had been harvested from the mouth of the Umpqua River the day before.
Bethanie Long of Roseburg and her kids Liam, 6, and Abigail, 8, came to swim in the river.
“It was a beautiful day and on Saturday I’m with my kids, so I thought we’d have a little adventure,” Long said.
Long said she appreciates everything about the river, like the way it provides a lush, beautiful landscape in Southern Oregon and a source of drinking water.
“I think Oregon’s the prettiest state because of all the water we have,” Long said.
Abigail said she enjoys watching the fish, tadpoles and other creatures swim in the river.
“I like to see the fish jump out of the water,” she said.
Her brother was more interested in jumping in the water himself.
“I can go in the water and I can swim in it,” Liam said after he chose a piece of paper to color at the coloring table.
Christopher Pond, who recently joined Umpqua Watersheds as the Crater Lake Wilderness coordinator, said it’s a really good family event.
“It’s nice to interact with the community,” he said.
“You appreciate the river more when you’re next to it,” his husband and fellow UW volunteer, Zachary Pond, added.
The couple said they’ve been inseparable for 10 years and like working together.
“This is the dream job for us,” Zachary Pond said, adding they love to be out hiking in the wilderness.
The Ponds set up a booth about the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal next to another booth about Umpqua Watersheds’ educational programs.
Leah Siegel, who lives down the road from Whistler’s Bend, also came to enjoy the event.
“I love seeing people on the river fishing and floating,” she said.
River Appreciation Day started 30 years ago following the efforts of Douglas County locals including Bob Hoehne and Bob Allen. After two sewage spills in the Umpqua River, they spoke out about the importance of protecting the river and helped sewage treatment staff obtain a new backup generator to prevent future spills.
They wanted to celebrate the river with a positive festival, so they held the first River Appreciation Day in 1987 at River Forks Park. John Kitzhaber, who was the state’s senate president at the time, spoke at the event, and two years later, the Oregon Legislature passed a resolution officially naming the third Saturday in July River Appreciation Day.
Hoehne’s son, Lumya Marks, used to pass out flyers to advertise the event when he was growing up. Owner of Canoa Sport, Marks was busy moving the business to a new location in Roseburg on Saturday, but said he has many good memories of River Appreciation Days over the years, including when his father made a big fish out of reeds and brought it to the event.
This year’s festival also featured a big fish — a colorful inflatable one. River lovers could sit inside it to hear fishing stories.
Bailey Stein, Umpqua Watersheds’ Americorps environmental education and outreach coordinator, said this was her last event and it’s been an amazing process working with Umpqua Watersheds.
“I’m excited for the music, and getting to be by the river is the best part,” Stein said. “Everyone’s out here to appreciate the river, so we’re sharing our love.”
Stein is currently preparing for the 16th annual Youth Wilderness Campout for those ages 12 to 17 slated for Friday to Sunday at Twin Lakes in the Umpqua National Forest.
For more information, call Umpqua Watersheds at 541-672-7065.