Willie Levenson wants you to get into the Willamette River. Literally.
Willie is ringleader of the Human Access Project, a Portland-based nonprofit with the mission of transforming how Portland sees a river that in some ways defines the city.
“Portland’s relationship with the Willamette is damaged,” he says. “We are hoping to help people feel differently about the river, to take care of it and acknowledge its therapeutic value.”
The Willamette River was not always in the state of health that it is today. For many years, the oxygen level was so low that fish could suffocate swimming through certain sections of the water.
While the river may still have a bad reputation with some, that perception is no longer accurate. Both the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon Health Authority say, “the Willamette River is safe for swimming and other recreational uses.”
By improving access to the river, restoring its health and creating a more exciting environment along its banks, Willie hopes it will help Portlanders fall in love with their river and preserve it as a natural resource for generations to come.
“Once Portland accepts the Willamette as a recreational resource and something to take care of, it will completely transform the culture of our city,” he says.
That’s where ‘The Big Float’ comes in. It’s a movement disguised as a party.
Getting people — more than 2,300 of them last summer — floating on inner tubes from Poet’s Beach under the Marquam Bridge to Tom McCall Waterfront Park is changing minds, Willie says.
“All of a sudden, whatever they felt about the Willamette before, which is generally negative, is wiped away and replaced with something positive.”
“I’m a River Hugger, Willamette River Lover, Your sparkling pride makes me come alive, Roll on my friend, roll on."