Now that our river is no longer also our sewer (thanks, big pipe!), what can we do to make it more of a part of the city? People live here years, crossing the river every day by bridge but never sticking a toe in the water. Instead, we bike or drive to other rivers that we consider the proper places for swimming and tubing. What makes the Sandy superior to our downtown Willamette, anyway?
Well, nice beaches is one thing. After taking on the Big Float, organizer Will Levenson is hoping the city Portland Bureau will designate an official city beach on the patch of Tom McCall Waterfront Park just south of the Hawthorne Bridge. Levenson submitted his plan to parks officials on June 29, a month before the Big Float, and a decision on whether to move forward could come later this month.
“It's a game-changer,” Levenson says. “Swimming in the Willamette is something that people in Portland have no idea they're craving. But when it's available, they'll never understand how they lived without it.”
The approval process is lengthy. Mark Ross, spokesman for the parks bureau, says officials are still turning over Levenson’s proposal. Among the initial issues: jurisdiction (the city doesn’t control the river, just the land that touches it), safety, costs, and liability. If the bureau likes what it sees, it’ll do a deeper analysis, Ross says. If that pans out, then the proposal would head before a committee made up of state, county, and environmental interests, among others.
But last week, the city took a small step making the patch of land a place where people actually swim: They posted swimming signs that don’t tell anyone to stay out or mention that icky sewage—instead, but remind people who do decide to swim that there’s no lifeguard on duty.
“It doesn’t mean we’re creating a beach, or endorsing or not endorsing the idea,” says Ross. “With or without signs, people will be swimming.”
Next up for Levenson is to "unrock the bowl": On August 25th, volunteers will be moving thousands of rocks from the edge of the water at the waterfront bowl to a spot further up the bank, making the spot nicer for bare feet.
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