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Is new beach a gift to Hood River?

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

March 14, 2007

Hood River has inherited 26 acres of new beach — compliments of a November flood — but the verdict is still out on whether the delta is a plus or minus for recreation.

The county takes in more than $7 million annually from its tourism trade, according to a market study conducted by Dean Runyan and Associates of Portland.

So, government and business leaders are concerned that any loss of outdoor sporting opportunities could negatively affect the local economy.

“I think it would be remarkable if they (windsurfers and kiteboarders) didn’t come because there are so many great beaches in the Gorge,” said Genevieve Scholl-Erdmann, marketing director for the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce.

“One beach does not an entire summer make or break — but obviously you can’t brush off a change this big, either.”

Ann Frodel, who operates Gorge View Bed and Breakfast, said her potential clients — many from Canada — have expressed worry about the new look of the waterfront.

The eastern third of the Event Site — the prime windsurfing area — was filled in by sediment following a fall storm. In addition, the Spit — a sandbar that served as the key launching area for kiteboarders — now extends north to the edge of the commercial shipping channel. The Marina beach is also full of glacial material from Mount Hood and the cruise ship dock at the entrance of Nichols Boat Basin has been completely blocked from access.

“The question that I keep getting is, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ But there’s not a lot we can do so we’re just going to have to make the best of it,” said Frodel, who is a City Councilor and a member of the Port of Hood River’s Recreation Committee.

“It may work out; there may be some good things that come out of it, but we don’t know yet,” she said.

Port Director Michael McElwee believes the new delta could end up as a great asset. He said, after all, there is now more beachfront to provide family fun — the trick is to capitalize on it.

“At first glance it looks like it could be detrimental to the community. But it could end up being beneficial,” he said. “People are out there walking dogs, flying airplanes and building forts. So, maybe we’ve added recreation in addition to traditional sports.”

The port is now working with kiteboarding and windsurfing groups to draw new boundaries for mixed use of the extended beach. However, McElwee said it is still up in the air how much of the delta will be owned and regulated by the port and how many acres will fall under the jurisdiction — and separate rules — of the Division of State Lands.

Denise McCravey, a broker at RE/MAX Results, which also runs Gorge Rental Property management, said it will be several months before Hood River knows the fate of the tourist season.

She said most kiteboarders and windsurfers seek a vacation home closer to summer. So, it is still unclear how they are reacting to the changes at the waterfront.

“I think it’s too early for us to know. People are asking about it but it’s just been more of a curiosity at this point,” said McCravey.

The land mass formed when loose glacial sediment on Mount Hood became inundated by heavy rains and slid down the steep slopes. Scientists estimate that in the early morning hours of Nov. 7, more than one million cubic yards of debris saturated tributaries and filled the Hood River, which carried it downstream to the Columbia.

The one sure fact for the 2007 tourist season is that the cruise ship dock will not reopen. McElwee said the cost to have the shipping channel dredged would be at least $1 million — money the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not have at the present time. He said federal officials are also concerned about sinking capital into a dredging operation, only to have the channel refilled by another flood.

“That’s the dilemma. If you dredge, you may lose that investment during the next storm event,” said McElwee.

He said the Queen of the West sternwheeler is likely to be docking in Stevenson, Wash., when it travels up and down the Columbia in the spring and fall months. McElwee said it is unclear how much revenue the passengers on the cruise ship brought into Hood River since they usually offloaded onto tour buses that left the area.

“Clearly, the loss of the cruise ship dock doesn’t help; but, while it has some impact, I don’t think it will be significant,” he said.

He said the port is planning to provide docking space for smaller vessels in the Marina or near its mouth.

According to McElwee, the new landscape at the Event Site provides more access to the river for people with disabilities. The new beach lies within easy walking distance of an improved parking lot.

“Whether you like it or not, it’s here to stay and we, as a community, need to anticipate what the hazards are and how recreation can co-exist on the sandbar,” McElwee said. “I heard one kiteboarder refer to the new beach as ‘God’s gift to Hood River’ and that seemed like a proactive way to look at it.”

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