It’s Will-AM-it, Dammit! Running the Numbers on the Willamette River

When the summer heats up there’s always room to cool down in the Willamette—and a lot is even safe to swim in.

By Michelle Harris May 27, 2022 Published in the June 2022 issue of Portland Monthly

Portland’s east-west divider has come into its own as a swimmers’ destination with the opening of see-and-be-seen urban beaches like Poet’s and Audrey McCall, but other parts of the river are—how can we put this delicately?—still not pristine. Almost 10 miles of the Willamette, from the Broadway Bridge to Sauvie Island, is a federal Superfund site due to industrial pollutants like PCBs and heavy metals. The good news? The water along the city’s most popular access points is usually safe for swimming, per the Department of Environmental Quality. So jump in! The water’s fine.

48 Ways to navigate the water, according to the Oregon State Marine Board, with kayak, paddleboard, and unicorn floatie among the choices

620 Number of people who formed a floating line on the Willamette to set the Guinness World Record for “longest line of swim rings” in 2013

187 River miles from the confluence of the Middle and Coast Forks of the Willamette to its confluence with the Columbia River 

7 Beaches and docks in Portland city limits where the public can dive in or launch a kayak, from Sellwood Riverfront Park to Cathedral Park 

11 Years since the first Big Float, the Human Access Project’s annual beach party/fundraiser, at which Portlanders of all stripes get wet and wild. It’s back at Waterfront Park on July 10, 2022 for its 10th and final event.

64 Contaminants still found in the Portland Harbor Superfund Site 

3 Noisy motor-propelled river activities banned in Portland from May 1 to September 30. Sorry not sorry, water-skiers, jet-skiers, and wakeboarders! 

40 Depth, in feet, of its main channel (so bring your scuba gear)

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