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Posted 6/26/2013

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By Christie Johnson
Willamette Valley Project

More than a thousand rowers gathered at Dexter Reservoir on the weekend of April 13 for the 19th Annual Covered Bridge Regatta. This year’s event drew 39 rowing clubs from 25 cities and five states, with participants ranging in age from 15 to 70. The competition, which features high school, college and master’s level races, has grown to be one of the largest rowing events in the Pacific Northwest.


The Covered Bridge Regatta is just one example of the numerous sporting events the Corps hosts each year on its reservoirs in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The expansive water, beautiful scenery and close proximity to urban areas make the reservoirs ideal for events like boating, fishing and swimming competitions.


Triathlon events, which include swimming, cycling and running components, have become increasingly popular in the past few years. Triathlons will be held at Fall Creek, Cottage Grove, Fern Ridge and Foster reservoirs in 2013.


In order to conduct any type of special event on Corps lands and reservoirs, organizers must obtain a permit.


“We work with organizers to make sure the participants and other lake visitors will stay safe during the event,” said Park Ranger Mark Chappelle who coordinates the special event permit process in the Willamette Valley. “We also need to protect the facilities and the natural and cultural resources in the area where the event will occur.”


Sometimes Chappelle can make special arrangements so an event will go more smoothly. For example, dam operators maintained a steady water level in Dexter Reservoir during the rowing regatta so that temporary buoys would stay in place.


“Having a fully buoyed 2,000 meter race course is one of the reasons the Covered Bridge Regatta is so popular,” said Lisa Bee-Wilson of the Oregon Association of Rowers. “Dexter Lake has become a premier place to row between Seattle and San Francisco.”


For the first two years of the Cottage Grove Lake “Tri at the Grove” triathlon, Chappelle worked closely with event organizer Steve Cash, to smooth out the logistics and safety issues associated with the large number of people, vehicles and bicycles involved in the event. The Corps created a temporary parking area below the dam to accommodate 400 additional cars, and the event sponsor paid for mowing to reduce fire danger.


“The Corps has been great to work with,” Cash said. “We’ve had a few bumps along the way, but they gave us a chance to come up with some solutions to make it work. Our goal was to make a race that was super-safe, and the Corps has helped us make that happen.”


Although coordinating and supporting special events requires considerable staff time, Willamette Valley Project Park Manager Tami Schroeder feels it is an important function of the park rangers.


“The special events held at Corps reservoirs are important to local communities,” Schroeder said. “These events promote healthy, recreational activities, and they bring additional visitors to the reservoirs and nearby businesses. Lots of people come out on the day of the event, but they also may come back again and again for training or recreation.”


In the February 2013 issue of Triathlete Magazine, the “Tri at the Grove” was selected as one of the country’s 22 best triathlons due its “easy-going, outdoorsy, Oregonian vibe” and appeal to “nature-loving triathlon newbies.” (70 percent of 2012 participants were first-timers.)

The “Tri at the Grove” event and its national recognition “put Cottage Grove on the map,” said Travis Palmer, executive director of the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce. “People will want to come here to visit our lakes, our trails and our town. That translates into a positive economic impact because they buy gas and food and stay overnight.”


The annual Covered Bridge Regatta and other boat racing events at Dexter Reservoir are also a boon for the tiny town of Lowell, 16 miles southeast of Eugene.


“In addition to the economic benefits, hosting these events is a matter of pride for members of our small community,” said interim City Manager Mike Kelly. “People who come from out of the area are amazed at the beautiful scenery and lake that we may take for granted.”


As the popularity of water-based sporting events continues to grow, more and more visitors will be drawn to Corps reservoirs and the nearby communities. By supporting these special events, the Corps is fulfilling its mission to provide safe, healthy outdoor recreation opportunities for the public, as well as significant economic benefits to the region.

Cottage Grove Covered Bridge Regatta Dexter Tri at the Grove