Make the McKenzie Connection!

Wooden boats took to the center stage

Some drifted their way in to the annual gathering in Nimrod

NIMROD: The picturesque Eagle Rock Lodge was again the site for the McKenzie River Wooden Boat Festival. The annual event along the banks of this iconic river may have drifted by on April 27th but it continued as a tribute to local river history and the craft of wooden boat building—a testament to community and the spirited camaraderie shared on the river.

The event included old and new, large and small, boasting over forty boats displaying both tradition and creativity. Among them were unique representatives of the legendary McKenzie River Drift Boat, each vessel a living testament to its rich heritage. Sharp-eyed attendees could note differences that highlighted the spirit of innovation that drove boat builders and river runners to refine a craft known worldwide.

Notable newcomers to this year’s festival included a trio of one-person boats specifically designed to tackle the challenging whitewater waves of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

One of those was a restored 1996 whitewater dory featuring the sealed hatches and full decks that were part of a boat built for commercial use. “It’s a McKenzie-style boat so it’s got a full rocker,” owner Cindy Lofts of Bend pointed out. “That makes it very maneuverable, gives you a great ride, and catches a lot of air.”

Those observations came from her experiences running Wild Thing on the Colorado River twice in the five years she’s owned her boat and her anticipation to doing that again this August.

Besides the traditional, a special invitation was extended to the event’s first-ever aluminum boat, which showcased a unique drop-down wheelchair-access adaptation.

The inspirational idea has launched plans to modify a historic wooden McKenzie River Drift Boat design to accommodate individuals with disabilities. It also proved innovation will continue to shape the future.

As people strolled the grounds they also had the chance to make any dreams of owning a boat a reality. Several were for sale, including a very well-maintained 16-footer owned by Kelly Tower of Eugene. He was well versed in all its details, having built it from a kit in years ago. Besides pre-coating all parts with three coats of varnish, Tower also varathaned the faces of all the craft’s ribs before assembly.

“One of the keys for a boat to have a long life is protecting the wood as much as possible,” he says. “Another key - you absolutely must keep the boat indoors to keep the sun off.”

Apparently, it works because many didn’t guess it had been constructed in 1988, thinking it was much newer.

“The 2024 McKenzie River Wooden Boat Festival organizers sincerely thank everyone who contributed to this year’s success.,” according to founder Randy Dersham. “We look forward to welcoming you back next year for another memorable celebration of the McKenzie River Drift Boat.”


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