McKenzie River, Oregon

by Roger Ward | Photo © Roger Ward

Oregon’s pristine McKenzie River is the staging ground for a festival of living history on opening day of fishing season.

Randy and Debbie Dersham, owners of Eagle Rock Lodge on a bank of the McKenzie, transform their well-tended resort into an arena filled with wooden boats. The annual festival celebrates more than 100 years of recreation on one of America’s most historic rivers.

“Our dream is a museum celebrating the history of the McKenzie River and its wooden boats,” Debbie says, pointing to the wooden drift boats, the likes of which tamed the wild rivers of Oregon and many parts of the West. She speaks for herself and her husband as well as for the McKenzie River Guides Association and others who cherish this river.
On festival day, I drift down the river in Randy’s wooden boat. The clear, clean water twists, boils over hidden rocks, churns into narrow canyons of towering cedars and eases into amphitheaters created by the wooded foothills of The Sisters.

Randy explains how these wooden marvels were not only historically crucial for navigation but also how they evolved to become a stable platform for fly fishing on swift flowing waters. On the river, the drift boat’s design, the reason for the festival, allowed us to glide on top of rapids and slide around rocks without any danger of overturning or being sucked down into the churn.

At the festival, I mingle with a welcoming group of guides and boaters and listen to the oral histories of the river, its wooden boats and their makers. This festival is one of the few places where legends of the Old West are still being told by the direct descendents of people who lived them, some from five generations of guides on the river.

From Eugene, it’s an easy 45-minute drive to Eagle Rock. Anyone is welcome to attend the festival. Entrance is free. To register for showing a boat, or to make reservations for the barbeque lunch (or a room for the night), contact the lodge. The proceeds from food and other festival purchases go to charities for youth activities.

When You Go
When: April 27, 2014
Where: Eagle Rock Lodge, 49198 McKenzie Hwy, Vida, Oregon
Fore More Information:
>> Eagle Rock Lodge:
>> Travel Lane County:
>> McKenzie River Guides Association:

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