Given that first impressions are everything Bend probably deserves a few lines for itself. Why are we impressed with it? Why does it appear to be thriving and successful?
Bend promotes itself as the outdoor capital of Oregon and there is plenty of evidence to support this claim. Driving into Bend from the Mt Bachelor ski area you notice that you are on a well maintained 4 lane highway that takes urbanites to the base of the mountain from downtown in 15 minutes. The ski area promotes itself as the biggest in the NW and just by looking at it from the road there are a multitude of runs to choose from. Even though the ski lifts are closed for the season we see downhill skiers hiking along the road to access some of remaining white stuff. Trail running and biking is legendary here and the well presented city marketing literature focuses on the accessibility of outdoor pursuits.
Downtown Bend is laid out in the normal grid pattern but the ubiquitous retail Americana stores seem to have been banished from the centre, no Big Macs and KFC’s here, didn’t even see a Starbucks. Instead there is a focus and promotion of local. Being local extends to the beer industry, there are 14 craft breweries.
The outdoorsy nature of the city is also evident in the restaurant business and tables line the sidewalks. We have dinner at 900 Wall sitting outside on white tablecloths on one of the main intersections, not busy with traffic just pleasant.
The business (office) district is modern, separate from, but easily accessible to downtown. This would be a great place to live and work in. The message to businesses is, come here and you will attract employees who also enjoy life, be prepared for that.
Unlike many other American towns that we have visited they have made great use of their waterfront, in this case a bend in the river. It is a well laid out public park, a lung of greenery and water in the centre of the downtown area.
People here not only acknowledge you they actually stop to have a conversation – perhaps something to do with being a Dalmatian helps! However, we think it’s more than that, a nice town attracts nice people. Even the groups of young and restless, and probably homeless, are engaging but not threatening. We observe a Police Officer having a ‘chat’ with one particularly vocal group obviously giving them some ‘advice’ and the peace soon resumes.
For me in addition to the 7 dog parks there are trails everywhere and easily accessible from town.
In short, Bend appears to be a great place not only to work but to live. Perhaps if our original travels had crossed this bend in the river things would be different today. Our adopted home of Bellingham could learn a lot from to this tidy town. Please do something with the waterfront at least!