High water prompts port to approve Event Site, marina swim beach changes

May 28, 2011

The Port of Hood River Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday evening to approve two proposals aimed at alleviating waterfront access and safety issues created by this spring's unusually high water on the Columbia River. The actions, which took effect essentially immediately, allow for temporary kiteboard landing and launching from the east end of the Event Site and the west end of the marina swim beach; both of which are normally closed to kiteboarding this time of year.

Due to above-average snowpack in the entire Columbia Basin and a colder-than-average spring, forecasters estimate high water in the Columbia into July. River levels are expected to remain similar to what they are now for the next few weeks before declining slowly back toward normal in mid-summer.

Following discussion with Pepi Gerald, president of the Columbia Gorge Kiteboarding Association, and Steve Gates, president of the Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association, the board approved two addendums to Port Ordinance 23, which regulates conduct at the Hood River waterfront.

The first, addressing the marina swim beach just east of the mouth of the Hood River, allows for kiteboarding at the location until June 30. Limitations written into the agreement state: "Kiteboard activities shall cease on any portion of the marina swim beach where users engaged in other activities (picnicking, swimming, etc.) are present; The use of trainer kites is not allowed; Allowed kiteboard activities are provisional and may be suspended temporarily or revoked at any time at the direction of the port commission or executive director."

The second and more significant change is at the Event Site where, until June 10, kiteboard landing and launching will be allowed from the eastern half of the beach/grass. Although a similar proposal has been discussed by the kiteboarding community in the past, a proposal spearheaded by the CGWA made the temporary change a reality.

"Though this (high water) condition impacts windsurfing to varying degrees, it has a profoundly negative impact on kiteboarding in the central Gorge," Gates said before Tuesday's meeting. "The CGWA discussed this situation in depth at its May 19 board meeting and decided to take a proactive, good-neighbor stance by recommending to the port to temporarily reopen the Event Site to kite launching and landing."

Following the board's decision, Gates, Gerald and Port of Hood River Executive Director Michael McElwee all expressed their appreciation for the cooperation between user groups, and the proactive stance the CGWA took in creating the proposal.

The Event Site decision came with the following limitations: "Kiteboard launching and landing on the beach will be allowed only on the eastern half of the Event Site beach; Windsurfers shall store board and rigging only on the west half of the Event Site lawn or beach area; During lower water levels, kiteboarders shall use the sandbar for launching and landing to the maximum extent possible; Launching and landing shall cease if other users, especially children, are present on the east half of the Event Site beach; Kiteboarders and windsurfers are encouraged to show maximum cooperation during the time period that additional kiteboard activities are allowed; The CHKA, CGWA and port shall use utilize best efforts to inform all users of these allowed uses and limitations."

For kiteboarders, the Event Site pump and dry area, which is allowed through the summer, will remain the same and will not be extended west during the temporary period.

"This decision represents a proactive and constructive response to the challenging high water conditions," McElwee said. "It's important for people to remember that both the swim beach and the Event Site are utilized by a variety of users. It's not exclusive for any one use. Safety of the public will continue to be our first priority."

In addition to being presidents of their respective associations, Gerald and Gates are both longtime downtown business owners (Gerald of 2nd Wind Sports and Gates of Big Winds). Both acknowledged the economic importance of focusing recreation as close to Hood River as possible.

"Kiteboarding continues to grow in the Gorge, and that growth has an impact on the community and the local economy," Gerald noted. "We want people to feel welcome and encouraged to come recreate in Hood River, even when the conditions aren't ideal. This is not a perfect solution, but I think it's an important step in the right direction."

Gates, who owns and operates one of the longest-standing and most successful windsurfing shops in the country, has a similar outlook. "This should provide an adequate space for both kiteboarding and windsurfing for the next few weeks until the summer crowd arrives in force in mid-June," he said. "The recreation community is a significant component of our economy and it's important to ensure that our visitors feel welcome and accommodated."

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