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Swimming beaches on the Willamette River one lap closer to reality

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.