CORVALLIS, Ore. — A week-long trip down the Willamette River is officially underway for about 200 paddlers who will be learning about the river’s ecology, history, and its importance to Native American culture.
Hundreds of canoeists and kayakers are paddling 98 miles in five days, from Corvallis to Canby. Paddle Oregon 2014 is an annual event put on by Willamette Riverkeeper. On Monday morning, the group took off from the Crystal Lake Boat Ramp in Corvallis.
Travis Williams, the Executive Director of Willamette Riverkeeper, says the event is a way to get more people out on the water.
“It’s the perspective you get in paddling the river,” Williams said. “It’s so much different than driving across it every day. So that is really one of the main things that we’re trying to do – is just provide that exposure to folks.”
Paddlers brought their canoes and kayaks from all over the Willamette Valley. But others came from out-of-state, including Anita Goss and George Lackey from Texas, who drove to Oregon from Texas with their kayaks.
“I have a pickup and we threw them up there,” Goss said. “I heard about this event at a different event. And I thought: a reason to paddle in Oregon? Wow.”
“We participated in this event last year and we wanted to come back and do it again because we had so much fun,” Lackey said.
But participants will also learn about the river’s ecology and history. Organizers will talk about how changing habits can improve water quality and habitat.
“One of the things that the Willamette needs is habitat restoration,” Williams said. “And what that means typically is more native vegetation along the river banks in many places where over time, it has either been taken for one reason or another, or affected by some kind of development.”
Williams also says the river is facing water quality issues. Paddlers on the trip will learn about what they can think about to prevent further water pollution.
“When it rains, we have so much run-off from our yards; run-off on city streets,” Williams said. “We need to think about how we over time pollute in our own backyards or at least have the potential to pollute and how there are still improvements to be made.”
The event is a reason to not only teach or remind paddlers about issues along the river, but to give them a reason to love the water and a desire to protect it.
The Grand Ronde Canoe Family led the paddlers, a group from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
“The Grand Ronde was invited because they do a lot of effort in preserving parts of the river and cleaning parts of the river,” said Joe Martineau of the Grand Ronde Canoe Family.
Martineau says taking their canoes out on the river is a way to keep their culture alive for the future generations.
“The spirit of the canoe helps us to share our stories, our history, our songs, our culture, our names – everything that we can with the children as far as the canoe being a teaching tool.”
He says the water is alive – and it serves as a form of unity.
“This is an event that proves that all cultures like this can come together for unity of one thing – and that’s the life of this river; the riverkeepers,” he said. “And it’s really so important for me too to say that we do have special things in our past and in our history, but when it comes to this, we’re all one. We’re all one color.”