Whatever happened to the Bend Water Pageant?

In this ‘You ask; We answer’ Rich asks, ‘Whatever happened to the “Bend Water Pageant?”‘

That pageant started back in 1933 with University of Oregon students doing canoe races on the Deschutes River. It quickly grew into a parade of river floats, live music, food, even an air show at one point. The main attraction was a pageant queen on a giant swan float. It lasted until about 1965. Popularity dropped off and it became too expensive to fund.

“There has been some talk of bring the event back to Bend. We are not sure it would take place in Mirror Pond because of some environmental concerns. Also the dredging of Mirror Pond needs to take place but there are conversations taking place of that going on,” says Courtney Linville with the Bend Chamber of Commerce.

Here is some background information on the pageant:

80 Years of Chamber Leadership: Bend Water Pageant

For many new residents, one of the first bits of Bend history that they hear about is the Bend Water Pageant. The very mention of the Water Pageant around long-time residents over the age of 60 elicits fond tales of giant swans, pageant queens and dancing waters on Mirror Pond. Many have even seen the swan image used in association with the city of Bend. For a festival that had its last run 41 years ago, it certainly occupies a central place in Bend’s collective memory.

Today, few people think about what went into making the Water Pageant such a unique, special piece of history. Occurring almost yearly from 1933 through 1965, the famed pageant was funded, planned, staffed and promoted in whole by the Bend Chamber of Commerce. A special Chamber committee called the Pageantarians oversaw and executed all of the details of the event.

The pageant began in 1933 when a group of University of Oregon students held a series of canoe races on the Deschutes River. After that, the pageant grew by leaps and bounds each year to span several days and include such varied events as singles bowling tournaments, mineral and rock shows, golf tournaments and soap box derbies. It had all the staples of a Bend hometown festival: live music, a barbeque, the pet parade and fireworks. More spectacular events like the Bend Stampede, the dancing water and light show, and even an air show at the Bend Airport attracted huge crowds. Of course, the feature event of the pageant was the nighttime river parade of floats down Mirror Pond. Floats often had varied themes such as “Life in 1847,” “Tropical Paradise,” and “The Space Age.” They each also had their own community sponsors. The main attraction during the water parade was the pageant queen who floated past the crowds on a giant illuminated swan, surrounded by her princesses, making her way majestically down the river through the glowing castle-like arch structure spanning the river. This water parade attracted tens of thousands of people.

With so many people coming to the Bend area just for the pageant, it is easy to see why the Chamber was willing to front the money for the project: The benefit to Central Oregon business was enormous. One look through the Chamber’s records shows another important aspect. The sponsor lists were extensive. Everyone from the big lumber mills and oil companies to nonprofit and service organizations sponsored a part of the event. Residents pitched in by purchasing commemorative buttons from the pageant queen contestants. Funding the pageant was truly a community effort.

The planning of the event fell to a large committee called the Pageantarians. This Chamber group oversaw everything from building floats and designing wardrobes for the pageant princesses, to hiring cooks for the barbeque and putting up decorations for the square dance, to fundraising and statewide promotions. The Pageantarians consisted of a number of subcommmittees handling each area of the festivities, such as the Barbeque Subcommittee, the Float Subcommittee, the Soap Box Derby Subcommittee, and so on. Each subcommittee was filled with dedicated Chamber members who often gave not only an enormous amount of time and skill to the project, but also backed the pageant with their own monetary donations. Such was the belief by the whole community that the Water Pageant benefited everyone in Central Oregon.

The focal point of the pageant was the queen and her court, which represented the pride of the whole community. The five final contestants chosen by school board members from around Central Oregon had to demonstrate poise, charm, good looks, scholarship and “other factors” as determined by the board. Once this “royal court” was chosen, the young ladies had a number of duties. They appeared at various city functions, dressed alike in outfits furnished by the Chamber. They also sold buttons in order to help fund the pageant. They even traveled around the state to places like Portland where they would meet with Chamber and VCB staff, appear on TV and radio programs, tour local businesses and – of course – promote Central Oregon wherever they went.

In the late 50s and early 60s, attendance at certain pageant events began to slow. Even as Bend’s population grew, the world was changing. The pageant now rarely made a profit. Residents and organizers were baffled, and came up with all sorts of ideas about why the pageant was becoming less popular. Some blamed easily accessible “flashy” entertainment on television, or the decline of traditional family-oriented rural neighborhoods. Others blamed increasing urbanization that resulted in city vacationers avoiding festivities that drew crowds. Whatever the reason, the days of Bend’s beloved Water Pageant came to an end in 1965.

From its humble beginnings in 1933 as little more than a canoe race down the Deschutes, to the full blown extravaganza it became in its later years, attracting crowds of many thousands, the Bend Chamber’s Water Pageant has left its mark forever on the history of Bend.

Special thanks to the Deschutes County Historical Society for their resources and support.

Source: KOHD

Panel to chart a course for Mirror Pond

It’s still going to be at least a few years before the silt that’s built up around the edges of Mirror Pond will be dug up and hauled away or redistributed to help develop new wildlife habitat areas.

But after years of planning, delays and unsuccessful funding attempts, officials say they’re making progress on the sediment problem at Bend’s iconic pond with the formation of a management group that will steer planning and fundraising efforts starting this summer. In a meeting this week, the Bend City Council is scheduled to appoint several members to the board, which will take the lead on the project that’s estimated to cost between $2 million and $5 million to complete.

The last time Mirror Pond was dredged, in 1984, it cost $312,000 and the effort was led by the city of Bend. But this time, the environmental regulations are more complicated and officials are looking for a better solution that will likely include more than just pulling sediment out of the pond. As a result, City Manager Eric King said the city is going to help coordinate the management board in its initial stages but will probably pull back and let a broader group coordinate the fix.

“We need to show some leadership in the community, to pull all the right people together and let the conversation happen,” King said of the city’s role in the project. “Then we’ll figure out who takes the baton and takes it to the next step.”

The management board will have representatives from the Bend City Council, Bend Park & Recreation District, Downtown Bend Business Association, Pacific Power, River West Neighborhood Association, Old Bend Neighborhood Association, Deschutes River Conservancy, Deschutes Basin Board of Control, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, and the Bend Chamber of Commerce. In addition, the board will have two at-large members who will be selected from six applications submitted to the city.

King said the group’s first task will be to take a close look at a report released this year by the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, which examined the silt buildup situation and suggested that initial planning for the project could take up to two years and cost $500,000. From there, he said the group needs to figure out exactly how much money it will probably cost to engineer and complete a solution — which could include a combination of dredging and creating new habitat areas.

He said the group should be ready by early next year with ideas about how to fund the project with local sources and requests for federal help.

We want to be positioned well for next year’s earmarking process,” King said.

In addition to figuring out how to pay for the project, the management board will have to wrangle with other challenges that weren’t as big of an issue the last time the pond was dredged. Councilor Jim Clinton, who served as the chairman of a Mirror Pond technical advisory group formed in 2006 to study the problem, said the city and other agencies involved in the project will have to hold public hearings and be careful to stay in line with a long list of environmental regulations.

All of the planning, he said, is probably more complicated than actually getting in and doing the work.

“I don’t think the projects that are envisioned there are a huge undertaking,” he said. “It’s just that life is a lot more complicated than it used to be in terms of planning that needs to be done, community involvement that needs to be done, satisfying all of the state and federal requirements.”

John Runyon, a senior manager and ecologist with ICF Jones & Stokes, a Portland firm that helped with the recent study, said the problem in Mirror Pond is going to continue to get worse if it’s left untouched. Over the next decade, he said, it’s likely that it could turn to mudflats and wetlands.

Mathias Perle, a project manager with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, said officials are aware of the ticking clock but also don’t want to rush the process just to get it done quickly. He said additional research done by the management group will probably make it more clear just how long it will take before the silt problem gets much worse.

“I think what the Watershed Council is interested in seeing is a solution that is sustainable both socially and environmentally, and however much time it takes, that’s how long it’s going to take to get it right,” he said. “We want to make sure it works for everybody at the table.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2009