▶️ Rodeo clown superstar heading to nationals; credits Central Oregon for success

By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

He went from a middle school teacher in Walla Walla, Washington to national rodeo clown rockstar, and his journey began right here in Central Oregon.

“So, all my success I think goes through Central Oregon,” J.J. Harrison said. “Not just Sisters, but Prineville as well and all the rodeos I have done down there. That is really where I developed my skill the best.”

Harrison is heading to the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo for the fifth consecutive time.

“Frank Beard, who just recently passed, which is too bad, was an icon in Sisters and Prineville, he was a stock contractor,” he said. “I did this event for Frank and Pat (Beard) saw me and he said I am going to get you some Rodeos, do this and that, I didn’t even know how it works really.”

Things for Harrison took off from there.

“Frank made a call to Glenn Miller, who is an icon, not just in Central Oregon, but in the world,” Harrison said. “He hired me for the event in Sisters and I went down, scared to death, big rodeo for me. I might have been terrible who knows.”

After his performances, the Crooked River Roundup was quick to get him to their rodeo.

“I really enjoy Prineville,” he added. “They are two very different rodeos, it’s funny and that is what’s so cool about Central Oregon. It is such an amazing place. I don’t know why I don’t live there. I love Central Oregon more than any other place on the planet and I have been to a lot of places.”

Harrison, ​who calls Walla Walla home now, says what sets him apart from other rodeo clowns is his ability to adlib on the spot.

“Playing with my buddy Jason Buchanan, who lives right there in Bend, Best sound man in the business,” he said. “We have a great rapport and that allows me and he is there in Prineville. I would take him everywhere I go if I could. We have done so many events together that we really play off of each other. I am a funny guy, but I am funnier with my guy Jason Buchanan behind me with the music.”

For Harrison, the Sisters Rodeo will always have a spot in his heart.

“When people ask, me no matter where I am at, and the rotary group in Clovis, California does this to me every single year,” Harrison said. ‘So, what is your favorite rodeo?’ It’s always Sisters. I always tell them, Sisters.”

The RAM National Circuit Rodeo Final will be in Florida next year.

▶️ Sno-parks expected to be busy this winter; parking along Century Dr. is a no-no

By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

We’ve had a beautiful string of fall days here in Central Oregon and lots of people are wanting to be outside.

“We’re just up here skiing, sledding and having fun,” Bend Resident Jay Dicharry said while enjoying Mt. Bachelor before the season opens.

Local sno-parks have been busy, meaning parking lots are packed.

“Playing in the snow,” young Maddox said at Wanoga Sno-Park. “Playing in the snow,” echoed Malia, a recent Oregon resident.

“Alaskan Huskies,” Bend resident Dave Bush said at Wanoga. “We are going to run 16 dogs in two, eight dog teams. We’re training for a couple hundred mile races this morning.”

More people enjoying the snow means more cars, which means fewer parking spots at some of the areas most popular sno-parks.

Kevin Larkin, the Bend Fort Rock District Manager at Deschutes National Forest expects winter recreation to carry over from what they saw in the spring.

“We had excessive use of sno-parks,” Larkin said. “We had folks parking out on highways and just a lot of traffic and we expect that it will be the case again this winter as opportunities for other forms of recreation have been fairly limited.” 

The Oregon Department of Transportation recently issued a warning to not park along Century Drive near Mt. Bachelor.

It could result in a citation.

“Last weekend like half a mile of cars, which probably is treacherous and not smart, so I understand why ODOT is doing that,” Bend resident Kathy Woodford said.

To park in a sno-park, you’ll need a permit.

“Enforcement is a real consideration with sno-parks, but really I would appeal to our better nature,” Larkin said. “That permit expense goes directly to those folks who take care of those sno-parks.” 

He suggests if areas are full, find another place.

“Kapka Butte Sno-park is nearby, Edison Sno-park is nearby,” Larkin said. “Those are much larger parking lots.”

Brown orders new gym restrictions after two-week freeze

By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Gyms just want to help people stay healthy.

They also want to survive.

“I am trying to stay full of hope that this is not a long term thing and will continue to fight with all I can to make sure people have the ability to have health and wellness as a priority so they can battle diseases and this virus,” said Melissa Smith owner of 3 Peaks Crossfit in Madras.

3 Peaks is one of several small gyms around the state worried about not only its clients’ physical and mental health but also how gyms can stay in business.

“Gyms can’t continue to shut down,” Smith said. “We can’t. I know for a fact a good handful of my friends that are affiliate owners throughout the state who aren’t going to make it through another four-week shutdown.”

Governor Kate Brown announced Wednesday that indoor gym activity will remain closed after the two-week freeze ends on December 3rd.

Outdoor gym activity can happen with a max of 50 people.

Shandi Taylor, a Certified Medical Assistant with St. Charles, at the Madras Family Care Clinic has been a part of 3 Peaks for almost four years.

“When we were able to come back to class, I felt very safe,” Taylor said. “Obviously I have been around tons of COVID, working at the clinic and the hospital, but (at the gym) we are able to stay six feet apart, washing our hands before entering the building.”

Even while working 10-hour shifts, swabbing patients who might have COVID-19, she still keeps an active lifestyle, working out five days a week.

Smith feels like gyms have no voice when it comes to state COVID restrictions.

“When it comes to being able to have advocates for us as a fitness industry in the state, most of us feel like we don’t have that,” she said.

After the announcement was made, Smith said she will have outdoor and online classes, but is worried for bigger gyms not being able to bring equipment outside.

▶️ RDM sees uptick in passengers, but still down from previous years

By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Flying around this time usually makes for a chaotic time at the airport.

This year will have fewer travelers, but flyers still need to be prepared and arrive early.

“I am just not afraid,” said Michigan resident Patt Delorme.

She is one of several passengers who traveled to Central Oregon for the holidays.

“I don’t get to see my family very often,” Delorme added.

Redmond Municipal Airport Director Zachary Bass says holiday travel is way down compared to previous.

“The four days prior to Thanksgiving last year saw twelve thousand passengers come through the airport,” Bass said. “We’re expecting about half of that this year, around six thousand.”

Air travel is expected to be less than usual, but still busy during these upcoming weeks.

“Historically the holiday season is our busiest season, a few weeks in November, a little bit before Christmas,” Bass said. “So we are expecting to see an uptick in passengers, but if we compare against what we’ve seen historically before the pandemic we are still going to be quite a bit down.”

Passengers gave us their thoughts after getting off their flights

“It felt safe, it was clean, it was good,” said Bryn Olivera, who is visiting from Texas.

“It was good,” added Lauren Kneadler, who is visiting from Phoenix. “My flight wasn’t full going there or back.”

Airports take several COVID-19 precautions.

“Redmond, just like almost all airports in the country, masks are required at the airport, also, on the aircraft and we just remind people to try to keep that six feet distance, wear a mask,” Bass said. “Overall, air travel has been pretty safe.”

Airlines like Alaska are blocking all middle seats, while United Airlines is having passengers leave the plane in groups of five rows to reduce crowding.

▶️ COVID outbreaks reported at Costco, St. Charles, local roofing company

By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Seven cases of COVID-19 have been traced to a workplace outbreak at Costco in Bend, just as shoppers rush to buy Thanksgiving supplies.

Morgan Emerson, with Deschutes County Public Health, said contract tracers work hard to find every potential exposure after an outbreak is identified, even at a busy store.

“If there was a situation where potentially an employee had exposed members of the public, we would work on a public notification for that,” Emerson said.

St. Charles in Bend also reported an outbreak this past week in the OHA’s COVID-19 Weekly Report, where the OHA posts active workplace outbreaks with five or more confirmed cases.

Five cases were traced to the hospital last month.

Thomas Hunziker knows first hand what it is like to have a workplace outbreak. There were eight cases reported last week at Am-1 Roofing in Bend.

Four were employees and all apart of the same crew. Two were asymptomatic, Hunziker said. 

“The other two were quite sick,” Hunziker said. “They really did go through it.”

Hunziker says everyone is now back at work, but he wants to continue to flatten the curve.

“You just really try to help out with the effort of not overwhelming the health system,” Hunziker said. “I guess that is the intent and I don’t know, hopefully we are successful because we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to create issues at the hospital.”

▶️ Pandemic causing backorders, but customers still spending on home improvements

By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Local businesses like Johnson Brother Appliances and Bedmart are busy heading into the start of the holiday shopping season.

“Anecdotally I would say we’ve seen maybe a 10-to-15% increase in some product categories and probably higher in some specific ones, in the cases where we can actually fill those orders,” said David Johnson, general manager, Johnson Brothers Appliance.

Johnson has seen bigger sales compared to last year, especially in the last six months.

He believes some of that increase is because people aren’t spending money on vacations, so they’re focused on upgrading their home instead.

He also added, the increase in population to Central Oregon also plays a big factor.

Johnson said some items are hard to come by due to supply chain issues.

Materials used in some mattresses are needed for medical masks.

In other cases, factories may be impacted by an outbreak

“The pandemic has disrupted the supply chain from top to bottom pretty significantly,” Johnson said. “A lot of manufacturers, whether they are in this country or out of this country have had to revant their factories, reduce the number of people on the lines. So that has affected their production capacity. It has gone down.”

Elana Stone-Johnson, vice president of marketing at Bend’s Bedmart, has a similar problem with her vendors.

“There are really only two manufacturers in the US that make the springs, coils that go into the mattress,” Stone-Johnson said. “So those two manufacturers, they have issues with having people come to work and be healthy and not have these outbreaks, but just to have these materials in the first place.”

She says they’re seeing more customers in store and online and believes that success is because of careful planning.

“During the stay home orders, while the stores were shut down, we actually really started to load up on our inventory in anticipation of supply chain issues,” Stone-Johnson said.

Johnson Brothers Appliance and Bedmart are both expect sales to increase heading into the holidays.

▶️ Impromptu – and legal – fireworks show in Bend gets mixed reaction

By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

An impromptu – but legal – fireworks show at Bend’s Old Mill District Monday night surprised the community and drew some very mixed reactions.

Some people enjoyed the show, while other’s commented on the Central Oregon Daily News Facebook page and weren’t so happy.

McKayla said, “2 minutes warning is not enough time for people to secure scared animals and for war veterans to prepare themselves.”

Cameron commented, “Although I can see the side of this that brings joy, it scared the crap out of my kids and pups. I was working from home when they started and it sounded like a war zone.”

Some wished they could’ve seen the show.

“I wish I would have known.” said Beckie, a Bend resident. “It would have been exciting to come out and see or to look out the window. We didn’t hear them, but I saw a lot of people post on social media and had some friends text me that they had no idea and the booms were frightening.”

Young Tanner and his family needed a closer look.

“We went in the car and drove to go see them,” he said.

It’s unclear exactly who sponsored the event or why they were set off, but The Old Mill District posted on its Facebook page as they were happening that a private donor sponsored it hoping “to bring a bit of happiness and cheer to the community.”

The post said they did not give an advanced warning of the event because they did not want to attract a large crowd.

Public permits for the fireworks indicate the sponsor was Watson Companies – a parent company to Hayden Homes in Redmond.

Our calls to Hayden Homes were not returned.

Deschutes County 911 Director Sara Crosswhite said dispatch took more than 200 calls in a one-hour period during and after the fireworks.

She said they were given a 10-minute heads up about the event so they knew to expect some calls.

Bend Fire and Rescue Deputy Fire Chief Larry Medina said there is no local or state requirement to notify the public of a fireworks show like the one on Monday.

“We’re looking at our process and even though there is no requirement, that we make sure somebody is responsible that somebody dissemenate that information and make sure at least the people surrounding the area know what is going on,” Medina said.

▶️ Take-out or close down? Restaurants take different approaches to 2-week freeze

By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Restaurants are doing everything they can to prepare for another potential blow to the industry. 

And some are taking different approaches.

“A lot of my friends working in the industry are a little worried trying to figure out what to do next and what the next step is,” said Nick Stanitsas, Kefi Chef and Owner. “We’re just rolling with the punches at this point and whatever laws and new legislation comes out, we’re just going to keep trucking. That is all we can do right now.”

Stanitsas says it’s time to launch online ordering and other new services.

“Offer delivery, onside pickup, curbside deliveries,” Stanitsas said. “Everything we can do to keep people coming to the restaurant. That’s all we can do.”

Some restaurants are reducing staff, but others like Worthy Brewing will close their kitchen for the entire two weeks.

“During the upcoming shutdown, manufacturing is going to remain open,” said Dustin Kellner, Worthy Brewing Brewmaster. “The restaurant will be shutting down during that duration to keep our employees safe as well as the general public, encouraging everyone to be responsible and stay home.”

Kellner says Worthy is considering drive-thru beer sales.

Stanitsas says Kefi will remain at full staff even with the freeze.

“We’re keeping all our employees on, we’re not letting anyone go. We shortened our times, so instead of being open 11-9, we will be open 11-8 and we’re going to see if that is something that works.”

Kefi will start their delivery service on Wednesday.

▶️ Road conditions to worsen as bad weather continues

By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

As the weather starts to get worse, so do the road conditions.

Areas south of Bend saw consistent snowfall on Thursday as a forecasted storm moved through.

ODOT’s Peter Murphy knew this was coming and crews were prepared.

“In certain areas it kind of gets affected before others,” Murphy said. “The Lava Butte area and south of there because it is higher than the rest of the area around here. So we knew that was coming and had people out there who took care of the plowing that needed to happen.”

Travelers like Jorge came over the mountain Friday morning. 

“We just went through the Santiam pass and it’s snowing a little bit on the higher elevations, But it’s drivable,” said Jorge, a Springfield resident. “People were driving. I didn’t see anyone using the chains on the vehicles yet. The snowplows were working and everything was pretty good.”

With mostly rain in Bend, Murphy warns more difficult conditions are ahead.

“Perhaps tomorrow morning is the time people need to be most cautious as we experience the cold temperature and ice forming,” Murphy said.

Six to 12 inches of snow was estimated to be at high elevations, while below 4500 feet received 1 to 2 inches.

Holiday travel expected to be down, but Central Oregon likely a hotspot

By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Not surprising, but Thanksgiving travel is projected to be on the lighter side this year due to the coronavirus.

AAA projects a drop of at least 10%.

And with bigger cities like Portland shutdown, more people might make their way to Central Oregon for the holidays.

“People are making last-minute decisions, they are also making decisions to travel close to home,” said Marie Dodds AAA Director, and Government and Public Affairs. “So when you have a great destination spot like Central Oregon, which is already super popular, that is going to be one of the top spots over Thanksgiving.”

Dodds says 95% of travelers will likely drive to their destination.

“We expect the mountain passes to be extremely busy the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving,” said Dodds.

Most travelers at the Redmond airport say they are staying close to home this thanksgiving.

The Redmond airport is running at about 50% of its normal travel, while Portland is at 35 percent.

“We are performing better than some of the larger hubs,” said Zachary Bass, Redmond Airport Director. “I think that makes sense during a pandemic. The more people there are, the more perspective that it is unsafe.”

The airport is expected to be busier than a typical day in 2020, but not like it used to be.

“As it is with every holiday season we are expecting more individuals to be traveling over the next few weeks, but it will not be as busy of course like it has been in the past,” said Bass.

The number of people flying over Thanksgiving is expected to be down half, compared to prior years.