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Guiding the Willamette

Pete Springer/OPB

When Paddle Oregon was featured on OPB TV’s Oregon Field Guide seven years ago, Willamette Riverkeeper executive director Travis Williams explained where the river sits in Oregonians’ imaginations:

If you ask most people today what is the defining feature of the Willamette Valley, what is that physical feature which most people will identify immediately, it’s Interstate 5. And I think if you go back 100 years, the answer would have been entirely different. It would have been the Willamette River. I think that a lot of folks don’t think much about it at all. They cross over the river on a bridge, they look down at it, they know it’s there. They don’t really establish a connection to it.

With his new book, The Willamette River Field Guide, Williams is trying to change that.

This book is a hybrid. It’s part history (“In Portland in the 1920s, local officials closed the river to swimming on numerous occasions”). It’s part nature guide (“When a threat arrives nearby, beavers will often slap their large flat tails loudly, marking their presence and territory”). It’s part trail guide (“While some of these gravel islands look slightly bleak, they often hold wonderful scenery and hidden wonders and are worth a stop and some exploration”). And it’s part polemic (“As you gain experience with the river and begin to internalize some of what you’ve seen in a large greenway park or while fishing the riffles near Junction City, you may know that it is indeed time to give back to the Willamette in a meaningful way”). What ties it all together is the authorial presence of a man who has spent years paddling on and lobbying for the 13th largest river in the U.S.

Do you paddle, swim, fish or commute on the Willamette? What have you learned about the river from your experiences? What have you learned about Oregon?

If you were writing your own guide to the river, what would your favorite chapter be?


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