tourist trash bend oregon

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:

tourism in bend, oregon

McKay Park, June 6, 2016


tourism in bend, oregon - river trash

The new whitewater park in Bend, Oregon.


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.

  • Carol Smith

    October 23, 2016 at 12:53 pm Reply

    I agree 100 percent. And I also disgree about as much. How can that be? If you’re only looking at numbers, it doesn’t compute. But were talking about life and forces beyond our control. At best we might get lucky, or just have your talent, and write something like this that truly resonates. When we invite like-minded people to live here with us, we do it for the best of reasons a mostly were getting the right people. We can probably all be speaking up more but at least we’re speaking up. Even if our heads are in the sand, we’re still here (unlike many who truly care but couldn’t stand it anymore) and no one can keep their head underground forever.

    At this time I see people chosing paths and believing that they have chosen the best one. That is usually a mistake. One might say, “big out-of-state development is here to stay, all we can do is try to save what little we have left.” Others might see the bigger picture and pursue politics or legal actions. Some are already doing what they can to protect our heritage and history–things like Troy Field, the lava fields south of town, and Mirror Pond. Within those groups are people who think they are salvaging whatever we have left and others who believe their starting a revolution. There are folks, even city employees, who are researching the affordable housing crisis and putting new policies and programs into effect. There are entrepreneurs building businesses that help counteract the problems in new ways. Localize Bend is one of the newest and they could have a big impact. One of the oldest is a nonprofit called Bend 2030 and I’m starting to see things there I don’t like or at least don’t understand.

    If love is selfish it isn’t love. If love is misguided there is good reason to question it’s veracity. But when love is love but expressed in different ways by different people, that imo is love at its utmost best. I’m saying that there’s a lot of that going around. It’s the reason you wrote your story the way you did. It’s the reason it resonated with so many and still holds true months later. It’s the reason why people loving Troy Field and even a lava field that few people even knew was there serves the greater good. It’s also why we should be looking to see if anyone rumning for city council gets it and is truly motivated by love. It’s why we need to support businesses big and small that love this town and even some of the big corporations that are doing right by Bend.

    I could go on but many have figured out where I’m headed and so I’ll leave it here. The phrase “love conquers all” has been around so long that many roll their eyes when they hear it. Same is true for “desperate times call for desperate measures.” My proposal is simply this. Let’s keep loving Bend as long as we can and show it our love in as many ways as we can. Let’s not ever see that as a negative. Then let’s recognize when others are motivated by love and doing things differently or even in ways we don’t understand.

    There are many who see no great value in Troy Field. I’ll admit I was one of them for a long time. But because those folks have had some major victories, the greedy people and companies are starting to see that money doesn’t always win. They are less bold and moving a tad slower. Love is having an impact.

    Love is also capable of uniting people who are seemingly at odds. If things are becoming desperate, that’s exactly when love can kick in and work such miracles. I believe that love in all it’s forms of expression is the only way left to save Bend. Let’s love this town like never before and never say it’s being loved to death. It will change. Nothing can stop that. But will we look back and be amazed that It’s really better than ever? That possiblilty is still on the table imho, but it’s going to take a lot of love to make it happen. The good news is it’s not either or. Even if we fall short, the legacy of what was created will remain and continue to be a positive force for all time. It’s worth the effort.

    Do what you can and support others who are doing things for the right reasons even if you don’t fully understand. It’s the combination of genuine efforts and passion that make the difference. Some ways will be better than others but none alone, or even in combo with several others, will get the job done. And it could easily be that the most unlikely effort to make a difference is the thing that somehow made it possible for everything else to really work. If you know anything about love, you know that not only is that possible, it’s actually likely. Love holds our interest in large part because of its ability to constantly surprize and amaze us. I want so badly to be amazed when it comes to Bend’s future. The odds are stacked against that happwning for sure. I don’t blame those who have already left. They may be tha smart ones who got out while the getting was good. But those of us left can still do it. All you need is love.

  • Alicia flint

    June 24, 2017 at 11:31 pm Reply

    We have so much building going on and not enough employees that will work for $13-15 an hour, that build all of the homes and businesses that are going up so quickly because they can’t afford to live here on those wages!!! The cost of living is at a crazy high!! This beautiful town will fail if we don’t support the workers that can provide all of this growth! Millionaires are coming in and love this town but don’t want to pay for the cost of inflation! Go home California and Arizona and Washington


      July 17, 2017 at 8:27 am Reply

      I agree on the cost of living issue.

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