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River Trips Provide History

A Harrisburg business owner is providing jet boat tours of the Willamette River from a perspective only a local could provide.

Mike Hurd is the owner of Scenic Jet Boat Tours and Hurd’s Hardware and Custom Machinery in Harrisburg, just 30 minutes north of Eugene.

“I grew up just a mile from the river and always enjoyed fishing and hunting around the river,” he says.

Now Hurd gives tours of the Willamette on his 22-foot-long aluminum North River sled. 

Along the way he points to properties and shares their history, identifies wildlife and gives insight on the environmental history of the river. 

At one point on the three-hour tour, Hurd stops the boat and points to a crop farm once owned by his uncle, and shares the history of filbert and peppermint farming along the waterway. 

“It’s a huge part of the community and of huge value to the state,” Hurd says. “Not just for recreation; for some people it’s their livelihood.”

He says the jet boat allows him to “cover more areas of interest in a timely fashion and allows me to take people out that otherwise couldn’t or don’t feel comfortable getting out on the water by other means.”

Hurd adds: “I try to relate some of the history when paddle boats ran the river.” 

He says that at Harrisburg you can see the old dock pilings from the 1907 ferry crossing and railroad bridges south of town from the turn of the 19th century. “But probably the one thing that almost everyone loves is the squirrel bridge on the McKenzie. But you have to book a trip to hear the whole story.”

Hurd also stops to point out four bald eagles, a couple of deer and two osprey nests. 

To help with the heat of a hot summer day, Hurd makes sure to throw in a few spins on the boat, splashing everyone on board with the cool Willamette water.

“I think it’s a great way for people to get out there,” Hurd says. “Or maybe they want to go out but don’t feel comfortable. It’s a great way for them to get out and experience it.”

Some question using a jet boat for the tour, and Hurd says that some complain about the wake a motorized boat makes. “It is true a boat going slow or a lot of lake boats do make a big wave,” he says, “a river sled doesn’t because their bottoms are much smoother and straighter.”

Hurd is on the Harrisburg Volunteer Fire Department, he says, and he helped get its rescue boats and does the boat operator training for the water rescue team. 

“Almost every year and sometimes a couple times a year I help paddle boats along the river,” he says, “whether it be to retrieve their boats they have tipped or maybe their belongings they lost and are floating down stream. One trip I helped a nice lady caught in an eddy trying to rescue her dog. We got both of them to their boat safely.”

The tour aboard the “Kimmy-Jo,” named in honor of Hurd’s wife who came along for the ride, begins along the banks of Harrisburg and ends at Armitage Park in Eugene.

Between the spins and brief stops to share his narrative of the each spot, “Captain Mike” navigates the river bends and shallow points like a veteran. 

“I just love doing it,” Hurd says of his tours that range from one to three hours long. 

Find more information at scenicjetboats.com or call 541-912-9107.