Bend Is Being Loved to Death – And It’s My Fault
Author Note: On June 7, 2016, I sat on my front porch on a warm summer evening and wrote the following blog post about tourism in Bend, Oregon. On a whim, I shared it on Facebook and things went bonkers after that. 91 people took the time to comment on the post and most comments echoed the same sentiment. It was shared over 5,000 times on Facebook. I got calls from Visit Bend, The Source, The Bulletin and many other organizations.
I struck a nerve in my community.
Unfortunately, when I launched this new website, the comments did not transfer over, so I’m reposting this as a new post. Fortunately, I did save ALL the comments because they were so important to the continuation of this story. When I have a bit more time, I will share those comments. Until then…enjoy!
I’ve been dreading summer this year. Yes, dreading summer in amazing Bend, Oregon. You see, it is beautiful here. The days are long and filled with bright blue skies. It can get hot in town, but the mountains are cool. The river is the lifeblood of the town. It is total paradise.
It’s not those things that I am dreading. What I’m actually dreading is waking up to find beer cans in the street in front of my house. Or coming across a woman who is passed out on lawn in front of Nosler (yes, the bullet factory) after a hard night of partying. The “Freedom Ride” that occupies Columbia Park, four houses away from me? I can’t even go there. Then, this morning, on my walk with my dog along the river, I saw piles of rubbish that rivaled third world countries. This is what the banks of the Deschutes River looked like at McKay Park on June 6, 2016:
I love my town. I love my river and the love the forests and the deserts that surround Bend. It’s friggin awesome. A lot of people love Bend. At least they put those funky green “I Love Bend” with the smiley face stickers on their cars. Locals love it; tourists seem to love it even more. But I’m afraid it is getting too much love. The wrong kind of love. The abusive, scary, shitty kind of “love” that says, “I love you, baby,” then turns around and smacks Bend in the face.
Who’s to blame for all this “love” and who benefits from it?
I am to blame, and I benefit from it. I have directly helped to bring people—new residents and tourists—to my town to enjoy the recreational paradise that it is. I’ve contributed to the tourism in Bend, Oregon. Beautiful Bend. As a writer and copywriter that specializes in writing about travel and the outdoors, I have gotten paychecks from local tourism based businesses. Heck, I’ve been paid by Visit Bend for a small project or two. I am the problem. If you’re reading this, you are on my website. Take a look. I am admitting that I benefit from it and I will continue to do so.
When I find out my home is worth way, way more than it should be, I roll my eyes. But in secret, I do a little happy dance. When I wake up early on a summer day to go for a walk in the woods, I think “How damn lucky am I to live here?” Sometimes I play the “I’ve lived here longer” game. “Back in the day…blah, blah, blah.” But there is no winner in that game.
You can imagine this morning when I had an emotional breakdown upon seeing the piles of plastic shit in the river. Is this MY fault? How did we get here?
Who else is to blame? You are. And I mean you—okay, maybe you. There is a good chance that you’ve helped bring the masses here too. I can name off many of my good friends that are in the tourism business or in businesses that have supported tourism. They are GOOD PEOPLE. People who own bike shops and tour companies, people who own tourism focused marketing agencies, and people who work in restaurants, shops, and businesses that are all supported by new people moving to and visiting Bend. My friends are realtors, trail builders, home builders and bartenders. They have families and they enjoy mountain biking and paddling the river and a damn good powder day on the mountain. They love running on the river on a cold fall morning and taking their kids to the Pet Parade on the 4th of July.
We are all to blame and we all benefit.
It sucks. It sucks for me to know that I am part of the problem. And for anyone that doesn’t see a problem and think that everything is hunky dory, that’s cool. I wish I were you. So, anyway, the first step is admitting there is a problem, right? Let’s do that, because I think a lot of good folks are still in denial. I know that these painful conversations happen in private, but can we just come out and admit it?
Hi, my name is Bend, Oregon and I’m being loved to death.
Do you feel better? I do.
Okay, good. Now that we know how we got here, what do we do? I don’t have the silver-bullet answer. I really, really, really don’t know. How do we have an economically vibrant, healthy community without having all the bullshit that comes with it? The traffic, trash and drunk hooligans. We can have forums and conferences, and government processes, like the round-and-round we went with vacation rentals and now affordable housing. We can put more stickers on our cars that say, “Be nice, you’re in Bend!” But I don’t know that those are the answers.
Here is something I am really embarrassed about: I’m tired of being a do-gooder. My mom is probably cringing at those words. I worked at The Environmental Center for 11 years (more really good people doing really good things) and have volunteered for numerous community non-profit organizations, doing outreach and education. And let me tell you, there is a high burn-out factor. Teachers, you know what I’m talking about. You have it, too.
But in my do-gooding experience, I’ve learned over the years that you must have change come from both the bottom up and the top down. That means we, at the bottom, all have to do our part, even if it means picking up 10 garbage bags worth of trash at 7 in the morning. And we need our public agencies and local governments, at the top, to make solid decisions to better our community.
So, ask yourself: when is enough, enough, and what are you going to do about it? I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I’ve got some ideas. I just might have to get all non-profity on your asses, or I might just pick up trash every morning. Who knows. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can make this place even better.