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Swimming beaches on the Willamette River one lap closer to reality

City Council to consider the Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan and Central City Potential Swimming Beach Sites Study on June 7, 2017.

The Willamette River is both home and playground to people, fish and wildlife as well a significant feature of our city and regional center. As part of Central City 2035 planning process, City staff partnered with riverfront property owners, other agencies and stakeholders to address diverse community aspirations for activating and improving this beloved natural resource and gathering place.

On June 7, 2017, City Council will discuss and vote to accept a proposal for the Eastbank Crescent area on the Central Eastside and direct staff to seek funding to develop a detailed concept plan. They will also be accepting a swimming beach study and announcing plans for a pilot pop-up beach at Poetry at the Beach, under the Marquam Bridge on river’s west side, just in time for summer. Interested members of the public are invited to attend the Council session and offer their comments to Commissioners at that time.

Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan and Central City Potential Beach Sites Study
Acceptance by Portland City Council
Wednesday, June 7 at 2 p.m.
Council Chambers, 1221 SW 4th Avenue
Check the Council website for details, to confirm dates/times, submit written testimony, or  watch the meeting live.

Eastbank Crescent

The Eastbank Crescent between the Hawthorne and Marquam Bridges was chosen as a focus area because it attracts swimmers and boaters, who use the shallow water area heavily during the warmer months. The Willamette Greenway Trail runs through the site, attracting bicyclists and pedestrians. And nonmotorized boaters use the Holman Dock and traverse the busy trail with their boat shells.

It’s also a desirable location to improve fish and wildlife habitat.So in addition accommodating swimmers and boaters, planning efforts for the Eastbank Crescent present opportunities to improve habitat for multiple species of fish, including those threatened or endangered species that rely on shallow water areas during migration.

With multiple activities in the area — including potential new development on the OMSI site — conflicts between uses are a reality. So a collaborative planning process was held to understand existing conditions, opportunities and constraints, and generate concepts that show physical improvements, which address project goals to:

  • Provide safe public access to and into the Willamette River for swimming and non-motorized boating.
  • Enhance in-water nearshore habitat for Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed fish.
  • Restore riparian and upland habitat.
  • Incorporate river habitat education opportunities for OMSI.
  • Improve the safe movement of pedestrians along the Willamette Greenway Trail.
  • Integrate multiple uses while minimizing conflicts.
  • Activate and enliven the area.
  • Create a design that is physically and financially practical to build, maintain and operate.

The Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan (March 2017) describes two initial design concepts that incorporate project goals. The first prioritizes habitat improvements, and the other focuses on public access and use. The recommended approach is to use the habitat concept as the general base and include as many recreational and educational uses as possible, contingent on the results of more detailed site condition and feasibility studies.

Swimming Beach Sites Study

With completion of the Big Pipe (combined sewer overflow project), the river’s water quality has improved in recent years. Consequently, more people would like to have safe public swimming access into the Willamette. Since the City of Portland does not have a river swimming program, Portland Parks and Recreation (PP&R) launched a study to learn about:

  • Other jurisdictions’ river swimming beach programs.
  • Key site and safety issues to consider when the City implements a river swimming beach program.   
  • Best swimming beach locations in the Central City to pursue when funding becomes available.

The Central City Potential Swimming Beach Sites Study (October 2016) identifies key site and safety criteria for development of a safe and accessible family-friendly public swimming beach. Examples of site and safety criteria, respectively, include beach surface material and river characteristics such as turbidity. It then evaluates and ranks five potential locations along the central Willamette riverfront, including:

  1. Zidell property in South Waterfront
  2. “Poetry at the Beach” under the west side of the Marquam Bridge
  3. Hawthorne Bowl in Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park
  4. Eastbank Crescent south of the Hawthorne Bridge
  5. McCormick Pier north of the Steel Bridge

This information was used to inform the Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan and will be used to guide future plans. The study also offers insight into the level of investment and types of amenities that would be necessary to develop a successful public beach.

The Poetry at the Beach site is earmarked in the City’s 2017/18 budget for a pop-up beach and will be open for public swimming in July until September, thanks to  Mayor Ted Wheeler’s initiative.

For more information, please visit the Eastbank Crescent website or contact Debbie Bischoff at Debbie.bischoff@portlandoregon.gov, (503) 823-6946.

Swimming Beach Study analyzes five potential sites for river access in the Central City

Results indicate the Hawthorne Bowl is most suitable for swimmers of all ages and abilities

At the center of the city, the Willamette River is the heart of Portland. And as improvements to the City’s wastewater and stormwater systems have made the Willamette much cleaner, people want better access to the shore and into the river. Groups of fitness swimmers can be spotted crossing the river on summer mornings, but easy access into the water is limited — especially for the casual swimmer or children.

To determine the feasibility of creating a family-friendly beach that’s safe for all skill levels in the Central City, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Portland Parks and Recreation led development of the Draft Central City Potential Swimming Beaches Study. A consultant team (including an avid Willamette River swimmer) assessed the suitability of five sites for future beaches. Four are on the west bank and one is on the east bank of the river:

  1. The Zidell property in South Waterfront
  2. “Poetry at the Beach” beneath the Marquam Bridge
  3. Hawthorne Bowl in Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park
  4. Eastbank Crescent south of the Hawthorne Bridge
  5. McCormick Pier north of the Steel Bridge

Based on characteristics of successful river beaches in other Pacific Northwest cities, evaluation criteria were identified focusing on public safety (gentle slopes into the river and ease of access) as well as desirable beach attributes, such as good sun exposure.

After scoring each site against the criteria, the evaluation team identified the Hawthorne Bowl as the site with the most favorable conditions for a new public beach. 

Read the August 16, 2016, story about the study in the Portland Tribune

The final study will be sent to the Portland City Council for their consideration in early October along with design ideas for the Eastbank Crescent, one of the sites assessed in the study. The study will guide city decisions about funding and developing beach access in the Central City.

For more information, visit the project website or call Lori Grant at 503-823-7849. 

City seeking input on ideas to revitalize the Eastbank Crescent and provide a public beach along the Willamette

Design ideas for the Eastbank Crescent and the Central City Potential Swimming Beach Study shared at open house on June 29 at the PCC CLIMB Center

The Willamette River has often been referred to as Portland’s front yard. Actually, it’s more like our own lake, swimming pool or beach, with potential to attract and accommodate even more sunbathers, swimmers, boaters, kayakers and water lovers of all kinds.

The City of Portland is studying how to create a vibrant public space along the Willamette, with improved fish and wildlife habitat. Planners are looking at the Eastbank Crescent, the riverfront site between the Hawthorne and Marquam Bridges just north of OMSI. The area includes the Holman Dock, a launch for multiple rowing and paddling clubs and popular with sunbathers in summer months. The dock is in disrepair and needs to be replaced, providing an opportunity to synchronize planning, clean up and repair efforts.

River attracts multiple users

The river is shallow here, drawing swimmers in addition to boaters. The shallow water, rare for the Central City, also presents an opportunity to improve habitat for multiple species of fish. The heavily used Greenway Trail traverses the site, with several confusing crossings and conflict points between cyclists, pedestrians and boaters carrying sculls.

To ensure public access to the river, a new dock, habitat restoration and trail improvements are coordinated and create a cohesive, well-functioning public space, the City is developing the Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan.

Swimming Study

Portland’s improved wastewater and stormwater runoff system has made the Willamette River much cleaner and safer for swimming. Consequently, more residents want access into and on the river. So the City is looking at five shallow-water sites along the river in the Central City, including the Eastbank Crescent, to determine if there is a suitable location for a family-friendly public beach.

Design ideas for the Eastbank Crescent and the Central City Swimming Beach Study will be presented for comment and feedback at a public open house on Wednesday, June 29 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the PCC CLIMB Center. Please note that parking lot fees will be waived. Visit Tri-Met’s Trip Planner at http://trimet.org/#planner to plan your route

For more information visit the project website or contact Lori Grant at lori.grant@portlandoregon.gov.