PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A group in Central Oregon is pulling a lot of trash — and some treasures — out of the Deschutes River. Sometimes it’s to help retrieve lost valuable items. Other times it’s to satisfy their own curiosity.
Lled Smith said it all started with surfing.
In order to bring his board to a popular wave on the Deschutes River in Bend, Smith has to wade through knee-deep water. He said it was hard not to notice things glistening under the surface.
He saw sunglasses, keys, beer cans and more. Most things were items people dropped as they floated on inner tubes through the rapids.
One day, he and two of his surfing friends, Miranda and Kea Eubank, grabbed snorkels and masks and dove into the water to dig the stuff up. It was the birth of what was soon named Loot the Deschutes.
“What we’re doing is we’re basically taking back from the Deschutes what it has taken from people,” Smith said, explaining how the group got its name.
Smith started posting the items he found on Craigslist, but the trio soon learned that posting to Instagram was the best way to reunite found items with the people who lost them.
Together, they pulled up thousand-dollar iPhones, diamond rings, car keys and sunglasses — lots and lots of sunglasses.
Eventually, people learned who to ask whenever they lost something on the river.
“People come to us. We just say, ‘Go look through our stuff. We can’t look to find it for you, just look through our stuff. We post everything,’” Smith said.
Kea Eubank said they’ll dive 3-4 times a week to look for things, if not every day. It depends on the weather.
“It’s definitely become kind of an addiction,” Miranda said.
“When someone throws out that they lost something, you can’t help but go and try [to find it],” Kea Eubank said.
They’re successful about half the time people ask them to look for something.
All three said the things they find the most are beer cans, followed by things like sunglasses and marbles.
Loot the Deschutes will hold onto valuable items like rings for a year. With sunglasses, they’ll wait for the owners to come forward for about a month. If no one claims the found iPhones, they recycle them and every year they try to hold a free giveaway event for the hundreds of sunglasses they find.
The three Loot the Deschutes members said they’ve seen the odd and unsettling items surfacing in Nevada’s Lake Mead this spring as the lake’s water levels drop. Officials have reported uncovering sunken boats and bodies.
So far, Loot the Deschutes hasn’t found anything like that.
When asked what the strangest things they’ve found are, they had a wide array of answers.
Miranda said she found an old kerosene street light once. Kea said he found a full set of dentures.
Smith said one day he found three cash boxes. He streamed himself opening them on Instagram and was disappointed to find they were all empty.
Once, they even found dog tags from a World War I soldier and returned them to his relatives in Eugene.
“The lady was actually crying. She was amazed,” Miranda said.
She said one of her favorite discoveries was a jar of decades-old canned beets. Some of Kea’s favorite finds include gold, guns, and explosives.
Loot the Deschutes often gets paid on commission to look for items. The requests come so frequently that Miranda Eubank said this has almost turned into a second job, especially in the summertime.
But even with the large workload, the trio is hesitant to bring on help. They said searching for items can be dangerous. Lled, Miranda and Kea all have a lot of experience; adding more people to their crew who might have less experience makes them nervous.
Miranda said if people ask her how they can help, she asks if they can clean up a spot where they usually swim, an area they’re likely more familiar with.
Within the last several years, Loot the Deschutes said it hasn’t just helped reunite people with their lost items, it’s also helped clean up the river. They think people have seen what their group does and have been more aware of what they dump in the water, and more conscious of how they secure their belongings while they’re floating on tubes.
“It’s like there’s almost nothing down there anymore. Last summer, we hardly found anything compared to like three summers before that,” Miranda said.
One thing they do continue to find regularly on the river floor is broken glass. The three members want people to think twice about bringing glass bottles with them when they float.
They said the treasures are always more fun to find than trash.
“It’s like a scavenger hunt for grownups,” Kea said. “So, we just treat it like that.”