When you learn about the Superfund site on the Willamette, it’s easy to think: The entire river is completely toxic. It’s too dangerous to touch. Right?

WRONG! The toxins that harm living things are concentrated in the sediment; that’s why swimming in the water and playing on the beach are NOT going to make you sick, but eating resident fish caught in the lower Willamette Channel COULD impact your health OVER TIME. 

Not only is swimming and playing outdoors good for you, it’s free of charge and the only equipment you need is sunscreen, a bottle of water and something to sit on.

Some people believe that the secret to managing our local wild waterways is to get more people next to them! Once you stand by the water – or maybe even wade or jump in – you might realize how beautiful and majestic the Willamette really is.

Now that you’re down with getting involved with the river, how do you get close to it? 

Here are three ways you can experience the Willamette River for free this summer, in N/NE Portland. Get out there!

PS: Always remember the sunscreen!

PPS Also remember these Willamette Beaches with public access: Sellwood Park (near the foot of the bridge of that name) in Southeast Portland, perhaps one of the most known and all-around best developed access points to the Willamette; there is also Poet’s Beach, downtown under the west side of the Marquam Bridge; Audrey McCall Beach and boat dock, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge; and back on the west side, Tom McCall Park (almost right across the river from Audrey McCall). Look them up and check them out!

Kevin Duckworth Memorial Dock

Free swimming and dancing every Wednesday starting July 5 from 5-9 pm with the Human Access Project, BikeLoud, and Lloyd EcoDistrict at the Kevin J. Duckworth Memorial Dock! The spot is a hidden gem nestled steps away from the Burnside Bridge and the Oregon Convention Center in the Lloyd district. This is your chance to dive into the best swimming hole in central city Portland, right on the Eastbank Esplanade. With lifeguards on duty for the event, swimmers will be safe while they cool down. Party tunes are provided by Bike DJ PopCartPDX. The dock is only accessible by foot or small wheels. Bike racks and swim ladders are available onsite. If using a car, park under I-5 on Oregon Street or at Lloyd Lot #236 just south of the Oregon Convention Center. See the entire summer’s list of Duckworth Dock events online at www.ecolloyd.org. 

Cathedral Park

One of the most beautiful scenic spots on the Willamette in Portland, under the St. John’s Bridge, here you will find swimming and fishing areas, a boat dock and ramp, restrooms, picnic tables, and a grass amphitheater. It has a small sand/gravel beach, right across from a bridge support. As part of the Portland Harbor Superfund site, be aware that swimming, boating, wading and playing on the beach are all safe, but eating resident fish caught here is not. Located at N. Edison and Pittsburg Ave. under the east end of the St. Johns Bridge.

PHOTO CREDIT Another Believer – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0