PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Ted Wheeler, along with the River Huggers, took a dip in the Willamette River Monday morning.
Human Access Project organized the event to “create awareness to commuters that it is safe to swim in the Willamette River.”
Wheeler was one of the first to arrive at the Portland Fire Department deck just before 6:30 a.m. for the ceremonial start of the summer swim season in the river.
Aside from participating in the swim, Wheeler wanted to spread understanding that after $1.4 billion spent upgrading Portland’s sewer system in the 90s and early 2000s, the water is clean.
“I am personally trying to show people that ‘Hey, this is safe.’ I’ve swam here before, I have had no problems,” Wheeler told KOIN 6 News. “The water quality is good and we don’t want people just to continue to think that well because the water quality was bad years ago that that’s still the case today — it just isn’t.”
Several dozen River Huggers jumped into the Willamette for a swim across the river and back, which is about half a mile.
“I keep trying to tell people how great this swim is,” River Hugger Cathy Wolfe said. “And they’re like ‘Oh no, it’s dirty,’ and I tell them it’s not dirty — it’s all over me. It’s in my mouth. I feel clean afterwards — it’s not dirty.”
Not only does the group want to let the public know it’s safe to swim in the river, but to bring awareness of the extreme lack of river edge access in downtown Portland.
One of the swimmers — Willie Levenson — said more river access is key to Portland’s livability in the future.
“The Willamette River is our largest public open space and natural area — only 5% is currently accessible,” Levenson, who works with Human Access Project, said. “As we continue to get denser, we are not going to be able to create more green space. This is our city’s blue space.”