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It's a big leap of faith

BEND — The High Bridge across the Crooked River Gorge will get a little more harrowing next month, with the opening of Central Oregon's first commercial bungee jumping operation.

James Scott, a Bend resident and longtime bungee jumper, BASE jumper and skydiver, tells The Bulletin he recently received authorization from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to proceed with the development of Central Oregon Bungee Adventures.

Scott and a group of experienced bungee jumpers will be at the High Bridge near Terrebonne late next week for test jumps and will have their first paying customers jumping off the bridge Aug. 1.

"This will be the first approved (at the High Bridge)," Scott said. "There've been pirated jumps before, illegal jumps, but this is the first legal operation."

State parks operates the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint, including the historic High Bridge. Opened in 1926, the narrow, 295-foot high bridge has been restricted to pedestrians since traffic on U.S. Highway 97 moved to a larger bridge just to the east in 2000.

Dave Slaught, manager of the viewpoint for the state Parks Department, said he rejected more than two dozen requests for commercial bungee jumping from the High Bridge before Scott approached him.

"I think he's a very intelligent guy and came to state parks with a very intelligent proposal rather than just an idea up front," Slaught said.

Under the agreement between Scott and the state, Scott will pay 5 percent of his revenues to the Parks Department. Slaught said his department plans to re-evaluate the agreement at the end of next summer, and decide if bungee jumping should continue at the site.

Between 200,000 and 250,000 vehicles visit the viewpoint every year, Slaught said, and it is not expected the addition of bungee jumping will be a significant burden on the site.

Central Oregon Bungee Adventures will be securing its bungee cords to a truck with a custom-built platform that extends out over the western edge of the High Bridge. Scott said jumpers will drop about 250 feet from the platform, bounce up and down a few times, then have a rope dropped to them to be secured to their harness so they can be reeled back in.

Scott and Slaught both said concerns were raised that jumpers could be a distraction for drivers on the nearby highway bridge, though the truck will partially shield jumpers from view of motorists and the scenic gorge already draws drivers' eyes away from the road.

Unauthorized bungee jumping and rope swings affixed to the High Bridge have been a concern over the years, Slaught said.

"It's kind of a spillover from the Smith Rock group," he said. "They're a totally cool group — but they're rebels, and they have a lot of fun."

Currently, the nearest opportunity for bungee jumping is at Ski Bowl in Government Camp, Scott said, where a 150-foot bungee jumping tower is erected each summer alongside zip lines, go-karts and other offseason attractions.

Slaught said he's excited to see a new recreational activity coming to the region but doesn't expect to make a jump himself.

"I'm a little afraid of heights, to be honest," he said. "It's not on my bucket list."

This view looks down into the Crooked River Gorge from the High Bridge at the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint on Tuesday near Terrebonne. A commercial bungee-jumping operation is planning to conduct jumps at the gorge. AP PHOTO.