Last ‘Big Float’ on Willamette River welcomes thousands of people

Published: Jul. 11, 2022 at 5:53 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore (KPTV) - The Big Float on the Willamette River in downtown Portland came to an end Sunday, after more than a decade of changing the culture and access around the city’s main river.

The Big Float started off as a way to promote recreating the river by the nonprofit, Human Access Project. The head of the Human Access Project, Willie Levenson, said over the last decade, he’s seen more people use the Willamette River to paddleboard, swim, kayak, and boat.

“Really the goal was that we know scientifically it was safe to swim in, a lot of people won’t believe it until they see it in action,” Levenson said.

This year, roughly 5,000 people floated, kayaked, or paddle boarded for the final year of The Big Float. Laura Kirk came out to the river for the second time with her children, so they could experience the event.

“Check out this energy all these people, the music, the food, the kids are excited to get some Kona ice after, all the different inner tubes, and people dressed up it’s different than your regular float,” Levenson said.

Looking at the crowds of people, Levenson said he didn’t imagine after so many years, so many Portlanders would take part in The Big Float.

“It gives me much satisfaction and happiness to see people on the river and feel like we had something to help move that idea along,” Levenson said.

Levenson and the Human Access Project have helped create beaches on the Willamette River, like Poets Beach, and safe access docks for swimmers. But he said he’s not done there. After The Big Float, Levenson said his goal is to help clean up the algae blooms on Ross Island.

“From our perspective, a lot of what we’re trying to do is give people an understanding that there is a reason to feel hopeful about the Willamette,” Levenson said. “There’s more work to be done obviously. We’re not going to stop our work with the Human Access Project.”