Examining Bend’s outdoor culture

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BEND, Ore. (WSLS 10) – Outdoor enthusiasts naturally seem to flock to Bend, Oregon. For instance, on a chilly October afternoon, a man in a wet suit is actually surfing on the Deschutes River. The river has been rechannelled to create waves where kayakers, and yes surfers, can play year round. And they do.

In addition to the Deschutes River, the region offers an amazing network of trails for hiking and biking, while nearby rock formations attract rock climbers from around the country. Nearby Mount Bachelor is one of the largest ski resorts in the United States.

It was the cycling that attracted Sheri Schnarr and her husband, Mel.

“We are looking to see if we can find some trails somewhere. We brought our bikes and hope to get some miles in,” said Sherry, standing beside the Visit Bend information center, their bikes hanging from the back of their SUV.

And there is something else that attracted them.

“The beer,” laughs Mel. “Last night at Deshutes brewery. It was good.”

The city’s famous Ale Trail is front and center at the City’s Visitors Bureau.

“I think the craft beer culture is is synonymous with who we are as a community,” said Kevney Dugan CEO of Visit Bend.

Dugan explained the city’s Ale Trail, where visitors make stops at 10-15 craft breweries — usually over a series of visits to Bend, in order to earn a commemorative Bend Silipint, a flexible pint glass with the Ale Trail logo on the side.

Increasingly he said, the city’s beer and outdoor culture are turning tourists into residents, and residents into businesses.

“Nationally, you’re seeing a lot of that same thing what people are saying day in and day out, ‘What do I want to be doing?’ In a place like Bend is big enough to have the amenities you need or would want we have great dining great craft beer. And on top of that there’s great quality of life during your downtime,” he said.

While the outdoors has always been in Bend, Deschutes Brewing has only been there since 1988.  The beer culture began with Deschutes, which seems to have meshed seamlessly with the outdoors.

During a mountain bike ride with Deschutes Digital Marketing Manager Jason Randles, along 10 miles of the Deschutes River, he told me how the outdoors permeates the company’s culture.

“Culture is such a huge thing for us at the brewery. It’s a part of who we are, so we want to make sure the town, our East Coast location, fit kind of that similar vibe.  And especially with the outdoors, some of us joke that the environment is kind a like that fifth element in our beers,” he said.

And company leaders said when they get to Roanoke, they want the Valley’s environment to bring that vibe to their East Coast operation, but they also want to help Roanoke capitalize on its outdoor amenities just as Bend has.

I asked company president and COO Michael LaLonde if they planned to bring a bit of Bend to Roanoke. “I think we are,” said LaLonde. “I think Roanoke is ahead of where Bend was back then in 1988, I think last time I went to Roanoke downtown seemed more vibrant than when we first visited there.”

Roger Lee, who is in charge of Economic Development for Central Oregon, said Roanoke is lucky to get Deschutes.

“They have been such an excellent corporate citizen as well. It’s not just about the beer, but I think it’s about the very engaged making this place a better community and I think Roanoke will definitely feel that,” said Lee.

Deschutes’ CEO and Founder Gary Fish said they chose a place where they hoped they could make an impact.

“We know that we can be a participant in the community just by being who we are. And we expect that to happen in Roanoke. As I mentioned, part of the reason that we ended up in Roanoke is because we could see that. And we could be a bigger part of the solution there,” said Fish.

He is careful not to suggest that Roanoke needs Deschutes, only that it appears to be a good match.

“To say Roanoke needed us, that belittles the relationship. That’s not the point. The point is we can be who we are, better, I think in Roanoke, and for lack of a better term that’s why we picked it.”

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