When the Bend Whitewater Park opened in 2015, avid surfers descended on the place, including husband and wife Kea and Miranda Eubank, and their friend Lled Smith, who they met on the banks of the Deschutes during the wave park’s early days. But the trio soon discovered two key issues with the new park; it was often too crowded for them to enjoy, and people were leaving behind a lot of their belongings at the bottom of the river.
“You would get to the park and find it too crowded to use, but think to yourself ‘I still want to get in the water,’” Miranda Eubank said. Already wet-suited up, the crew sometimes went diving as an alternative to surfing in those early days, a choice that eventually led to the creation of Loot the Deschutes, an informal organization dedicated to diving the Deschutes River and reconnecting people with lost items.
According to Miranda Eubank, Smith was one of the first people to ever dive the new section. “You could walk across the walkway, look down and see things shining down there,” Smith said, “I would come up with handfuls of sunglasses.”
As their diving jaunts became more purposeful, whether what the trio found was trash or valuable, they picked it up and stored it in an innertube they pulled along behind them. All of their diving is done without any breathing equipment. So far, they have pulled up nearly 5,000 pounds of trash.
But their finds are definitely not all trash. On one of his dives, Smith recovered a 96-carat diamond ring, glittering at the bottom of the river, and made a Craigslist post to see if the rightful owner would contact him. Six months later, a woman in Texas contacted Smith and told him the story of how she lost it.
“It turns out that the ring was gifted to the woman on her 30th wedding anniversary from her late husband,” Smith said. “She even remembered the moment that a rope caught her finger and just slipped the ring right off.”
Smith shipped the ring back to Texas to be reunited with its owner. After this successful return, Smith created an Instagram page to post pictures of lost items, and Loot the Deschutes was officially born. Since then, the trio have been diving the Deschutes, pulling up anything they can find, and posting on their page to help connect lost items with their owners.
Outside of returning valuables to river goers, the trio also discovered the historical value to their newfound hobby. The Deschutes is the lifeline of Bend, and played a key role in the foundation of the town. Through all of our history, the Deschutes has slowly collected an archival collection that could rival a museum, guarded in its murky depths.
Among keys and rings sit relics that remind us of bygone eras: early 20th century longshoreman hooks used at the lumber mill, WWI dog tags (eventually returned to the soldier’s granddaughter), century-old revolvers, and vials of Wild West era medicine fit for a snake oil salesman. All historical recoveries have been kept in a growing collection. Through these relics, we glimpse the lives of people who came before us: the lumber mill worker whose labor helped found the town, the travelling salesman whose life is a reminder of the freedom and lawlessness brought on by the Old West, and the soldier who sacrificed his youth to fight violent nationalism.
With a sudden responsibility to both return lost items and document the past, the trio now find themselves looking to the future. For now, they just want to go with the flow. The plan for Loot the Deschutes is to keep reconnecting people with their lost items, recovering history and having fun.
For any divers looking to loot their own treasure in this river, the trio at Loot the Deschutes has some advice: be careful. Smith was electrocuted when he nearly grabbed an exposed wire underwater, while the Eubanks have had their own close calls. “We see a lot of young people follow in our steps, and we want them to have fun, but the last thing we want is someone to get hurt because they wanted to be like us,” Kea Eubank said.
If you do go diving and find an item that you would like to return to its rightful owner, contact Loot the Deschutes via their Instagram page @lootthedeschutes.