Hood River Sandbar

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Changing Times
by Jim Ealer

The sandbar is here to stay. That’s the reality that came out of the Port of Hood River’s February 13 meeting of the Waterfront Recreation Committee

Since last November,  the Port of Hood River estimates that the sandbar has expanded by about 26 acres–or about 1.5 million cubic yards of sand.  While this seems like a large increase, historical photographs show that the Hood River delta is simply returning its average size prior to construction of the Bonneville and Dalles Dams.  As hydrologist Andrew Jansky said at the meeting, “this is simply Mother Nature bringing Mt. Hood back to the sea, with a stop in Hood River.”

For this sailing season, windsurfers and kiteboarders should not expect any major efforts to reshape the sandbar.   Dredging is too expensive and requires too many approvals to happen in a short period of time, and the likelihood of recurrence is too high to warrant dredging in a longer time frame.

Summer 2007 will therefore be a season of windsurfers and kiters learning to share the water and beach around the Sandbar and Event Site.  At the Feb. 12 Waterfront Committee meeting, the primary topic of discussion was on the “congestion zone” at the west end of the sandbar and just north of the Event Site. Basically, with the expanded sandbar, kites will now launch in the same areas as windsurfers.  While congestion has always been an issue at the Event Site, everyone agreed the problem just got a lot worse.

To combat congestion, several attendees suggested different ways of separating windsurfer and kiteboarding areas on the Sandbar.  The simplest suggest, by Bart Vervloet, was to set up cones or some other demarcation point on the sandbar to divide between windsurf and kiteboard use.  Corey Roesler of the CGKA suggested a golf cart or other “shuttle” to help get kiters away from the Event Site and further out on the 1,000 foot long sandbar beach.

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None of these suggestions are perfect, however.  With the daily changes in the river level, the amount of sandbar–and the availabity of launchable beach–will change dramatically.  Thus, a permanent demarcation will be difficult to setup.  Also, since the sandbar is a beach and state property, any division of use is technically not enforceable–it’s just a voluntary arrangement.  Any rogue windsurfer or kiter could spoil it for everyone.

As always, parking seems to play into the issue as well.  Kiteboarders indicated they will want to park at the Event site and go across the little channel to launch right from the beach rather than walk over from the Spit.  This brought up concerns of parking, particularly for windsurfers who have a lot of gear to lug around.

With all that, it’s still not clear how much of the sandbar will be under water come summertime.  Much depends on the amount of snowfall for the rest of the season, the daily power generation needs at the Bonneville and Dalles Dams, and a host of other factors.   Within a few weeks, the Port should have some projections of the water level so that we can understand better what the summer Sandbar will look like.

Watersport congestion not the only concern, either.  There also may be water quality issues due to the lack of drainage from Nichols Basin. Since Nichols is now a tidal pond rather than a part of the river, there may be high concentrations of chemicals from the shipyard–which could cause unpleasant odors and sickness.

There are also safety concerns for pedestrians and such on the sandbar, as the drop off out on the north side is very steep– drownings are possible if people aren’t careful.

As an “almost have my jibe” windsurfer, my personal concern is for the “intermediate” windsurfers for whom the Event Site is the primary learning spot before graduating to the Hatch and Dougs.  Advanced sailors will be able to thread the needle and get out into the open water, sail around and only come back when they need a break. But the people who are learning won’t have the skills to stay upwind and away from the kiters, and will probably be too scared to sail anyway with all the kites in the area.  This is not a negative towards kiters–they deserve to use the river as much as windsurfers do–but I know that intermediate sailors get nervous with a lot of traffic around.

Long term, everyone has their eyes on Lot 6 as a potential solution.  If we could develop this as a windsurf beach, the kiters could have the Event site and everyone would be happy.  But this is a long political process away from reality, as Lot 6 is currently planned as the new Hood River City Waterfront Park.

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