Lincoln City’s D River is part-time holder of a world record
Fans of the tiny Lincoln City waterway and partisans of the Roe River in Great Falls, Montana, still swap good-natured gibes and call each other’s rivers ‘drainage ditches.’ But the Guinness Book seems to have given up on them both.
By Finn J.D. John — June 14, 2010
In the middle of Lincoln City, travelers on Highway 101 often stop to pose under a small road sign. It reads, “D River/ World’s Shortest.”
And if those travelers happen to be from Great Falls, Montana – home of the 201-foot-long Roe River – chances are they don’t believe it.
Whose river is the shortest?
For several dozen years there has been a running debate between Lincoln City and Great Falls over which of them gets to be the home of the world’s shortest river. Even Johnny Carson, the legendary host of “The Tonight Show,” got involved – on the wrong side, if you’re rooting for the Oregon site.
Shortest name for the shortest river
The D River is between 120 and 440 feet long,
depending on how high the tide is when it's
measured. At low tide, it really is the world's
shortest river; at high tide, Montana's Roe
River, at 210 feet, holds the title. Photo illustration
of Oregon Coast Today, www.
The D River was named in a contest in 1940, when the town around it was called Delake; the concept was to give the "world's shortest river" the world's shortest name. The river lets the water from Devils Lake flow out into the ocean. It’s not exactly enormous – about 30 feet wide and three feet deep. Its original survey had it running 440 feet from the edge of the lake to the extreme low tide mark on the beach.
Appeal to the highest court in the land
That worked great until 1987, when a group of middle-school students in Great Falls realized that the Roe River, at 201 feet, was less than half that long. And from that point, the fight was on.
The kids marshaled some powerful support when they got booked on “The Tonight Show.” It worked — the next edition of the Guinness Book listed the Roe River as the shortest river.
Lincoln City fights back
That raised some hackles in Lincoln City. Everyone said it was all in good fun, but some of their remarks had an edge to them. “A group of school kids in Great Falls basically went out and got a drainage ditch surveyed for a school project,” David Gomberg, the director of the Lincoln City Chamber of Commerce, was heard to grumble.
As a drainage ditch, the Roe would be something to see – its stream flow is in the range of 2,300 cubic feet per second, or about half the size of the McKenzie River at Leaburg. Moreover, the D itself isn’t exactly huge.
But then, it’s not usually 440 feet long, either. In fact, it’s only that long twice a year, at the two maximum low tides. With the title on the line, Lincoln City locals started thinking that wasn’t a fair way to measure the river. So a local survey company sallied forth on a spring tide and measured the river at its shortest – with the tide as high as possible, and the ocean practically lapping at the footings of Highway 101. The result: 120 feet.
Armed with this information, the Lincoln City partisans went back to the Guinness Book publisher to petition for a new trial.
Guinness Book: "Everybody's a winner!"
In 1990, the Guinness people agreed to update the listing so that it listed the D River as the world’s shortest during high tides, and the Roe as the world’s shortest at other times. Both could keep their “World’s Shortest River” signs and information, and everybody was happy – well, almost everybody.
Then in 2006, the Guinness Book of World Records quietly dropped the “shortest river” category altogether. Perhaps they were simply sick of getting pestered by die-hard fans of both rivers urging them to declare a clear winner. Maybe they were worried about groups elsewhere in the country renaming mill-pond spillways and drainage channels as rivers in an attempt to gain publicity. Or maybe they simply ran out of space – they didn’t say.
In any case, with neither the Guinness Book nor Johnny Carson to judge the case, there’s nothing stopping both rivers’ boosters from claiming victory.
(Sources: Price, Niki. “The World’s Shortest River is Long on Controversy,” Oregon Coast Today, 2008 (https://www.oregoncoasttoday.com/thedriver.html); Baskas, Harriet. Oregon Curiosities. Guilford, CT: Insiders’ Guide, 2007; Lincoln City Website (www.oregoncoast.org))