One of the ways cities attract tourism is by organizing special events. New Orleans is synonymous with Mardi Gras. The motorcycle rally in Sturgis South Dakota is another good example. Often an event is centered on a particular characteristic that is unique to the area. Burning Man is held on the blasted playa of the Black Rock Desert. DuneFest is held at the awesome Oregon Dunes on the coast of Southwestern Oregon.
Mild temperatures and magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean are the backdrops for DuneFest, which is held each summer in Winchester Bay Oregon. The 5-day event is always widely anticipated, action-packed, and super fun. This year marked the 20th anniversary, when Winchester Bay was graced with over 11,000 attendees. With the slogan “The most fun a family can have in the sand,” how could one resist?
DuneFest is powered by an amazing team of people at the Reedsport/Winchester Bay Chamber of Commerce. There is also a group of volunteers. I spoke with Jody Morrow, DuneFest’s coordinator. Jody has been a chamber member for 12 years and the force behind DuneFest for the last 4. Jody explained that DuneFest is an important local event in that it attracts tourism to the Coos Bay/Winchester Bay area. The event pays for itself each year and even creates some revenue for the chamber.
Planning the festival is a full-time job for Jody. She begins the planning process for the next year before the current festival has concluded. Jody can be found on-site and is very busy every day during each festival. She said that this year her Fitbit recorded 26,000 steps in one day – every one of them in the sand.
I asked Jody what her favorite events are. She said that she always looks forward to the freestyle show. Drag bikes are another favorite. A drag race record of 112 mph was set this year!
Jody also enjoys interacting with the attendees. She mentioned that there are very few problems or mishaps at DuneFest. It is a very safe, family-oriented event. Safety is a top priority. That was emphasized when an alcohol ban was placed on the event in 2008. After that, DUIs can almost always be counted on one hand each year. Those are impressively low numbers among so many people at a 5-day event.
While many DuneFest participants are local, others come from the nearby states of Washington, California, and Idaho. Some participants come from as far as Mexico and Canada.
When the event began in the early 2000s, participants’ vehicles were much different than they are today. Back then, it was primarily quads, 4×4’s and buggies. Today, those types of vehicles still register, but it is now primarily UTVs.
Jody explained part of what it takes to pull off DuneFest each year. In particular, she spoke highly about a special team of 5 men, led by “Sand Master Clark.” Clark’s team is wholly responsible for doing all of the sand grooming needed for DuneFest each year.
Clark and his team use five bulldozers to make all of the event tracks and jumps. They lay bark and mulch in the camping areas. The team is also responsible for towing campers to their sand campsites and towing them back out at the end of the weekend. After DuneFest, the event’s special use permit requires Clark and his team to return the sand to its natural state. DuneFest would not happen without them. Jody said that the fuel bill alone for DuneFest this year was over $10,000!
Jody also likes interacting with vendors at DuneFest. Vendor row is always one of the most popular attractions at DuneFest. It is always bustling with people looking for the latest and greatest parts, gear, and accessories. It was the largest this year of any that I recall. For many years now, participants count on companies like Superior (this year’s major sponsor), Boondockers, Rugged Radio, and Interstate Batteries to be there, displaying their wares. In addition, if you’re hungry, there is always a great selection of food vendors selling everything from corn dogs to gourmet sandwiches. It is also the only place at the event where alcohol can be present.
Racing has always been front and center at DuneFest. Throughout the weekend, attendees can participate in or watch sand drags, short course, huck contests, barrel races, or the relatively-new pit bike races. The pit bike races just completed their second year and are a riot to watch!
If racing isn’t your thing, the staff of DuneFest is incredibly successful in gathering prize donations for their famous poker run and treasure hunt. I participate in these events every time I’m there. They are both great ways to get familiar with the dunes. They are also great events to sign your entire group up for. In the past, I won a free exhaust system for my quad and a new Weber BBQ. Others in our group have been lucky winners too.
Concerts have been another long-standing tradition at DuneFest. There are live bands on stage at the main sand camping area to entertain participants on Friday and Saturday nights. This year I saw a local band called Gunstock Red. They were playing adjacent to the pit bike track. We listened to the band and watched participants race and jump motorcycles and ATCs that were way too small for them. A huge bonfire was also provided so we could warm up when the chill set in.
DuneFest has been a long-standing and highly anticipated event in Winchester Bay for two decades now. It constantly morphs to keep up with the changing times and technology in our sport. Each year the event is tuned and tweaked to make it better than the year before. And Jody, the master behind it all, keeps the festival running like a fine machine.
Dates have already been announced for next year. DuneFest will be held August 8-13, 2023. Jody said to plan well ahead and make reservations soon for the best camping options. For more information, go to https://www.DuneFest.com/. Or call the Reedsport/Winchester Bay Chamber of Commerce at 541-271-3495.
Dates have already been announced for next year. DuneFest will be held August 8-13, 2023. Jody said to plan well ahead and make reservations soon for the best camping options. For more information, go to https://www.DuneFest.com/. Or call the Reedsport/Winchester Bay Chamber of Commerce at (541) 271-3495.