Human Access Project

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in Portland could actually get into the Willamette River? Simply stroll down to the water’s edge, wade out into it, and swim or paddle around to their heart's content in a safe, public area? It's time we did something about that. And that’s what our not-for-profit organization, Human Access Project, is all about.


Let’s face it, even if you wanted to swim in the Willamette River in downtown Portland today, how would you do it? There's no easy way to get into it.  It’s like this:  if you want birds to come into your yard you put up a bird feeder and plant trees to create a bird-friendly habitat. The same is true for humans and the river. If we want to make it so people can swim in the Willamette we need to create better access and a more inviting environment. For instance, imagine the Tom McCall bowl area redesigned with a beach instead of the unfriendly jagged rock river edge currently there.


In short, the Human Access Project is driven to promote activating the Willamette River for recreational use that considers all the critters that live and love the water including humans.

Human Access Project Mission

The Human Access Project vision is simple:  a city in love with its river. This grassroots not-for-profit group has three concentric goals:

1) Create a human habitat and more access points along the Willamette River in downtown Portland.


2) Inspire people to get into the Willamette River.


3) Facilitate stewardship of the Willamette River and Watershed.

HAP Accomplishments

Human Access Project was conceived in November 2010, when founder Will Levenson began organizing an event called “The Big Float.”  The Big Float (TBF) is a group inner tube float of the Willamette River in downtown Portland, Oregon.  The idea behind TBF is that by getting a large number of people in the water in an easy visible way would be a powerful statement to demonstrate to Portlanders that the Willamette is safe to swim in and vicerally change peoples experience with the Willamette River. 


TBF had its first launch in 2011 with 1,300 participants.  Four years later 2014 grew to 2,300 participants.  Planning is already underway for 2015, and the goal will be to reach 3,000 participants. 


Human Access Project has undertaken two Willamette River beach clean-up, habitat restoration projects, which are ongoing.  The first, on the eastside of the Willamette River by the Hawthorne Bridge, HAP has to date removed 18 tons of concrete, over 12 individual clean up events revealing a sandy beach.  HAP aspires to create a formal beach in this spot, we have nicknamed this area Audrey McCall Beach after Tom McCall's wife.  The second is a beach creation effort on the west side of the Willamette River by the Hawthorne Bridge.  HAP hosted a community kickoff event called UnRock the Bowl in 2012 and has held an annual event every year since, volunteers move rip-wrap rock from the water’s edge of the Willamette River back to the bank where it was initially installed 30 years ago as bank protection.  Under every rock sand is revealed a new sandy beach for the Portland community to enjoy.  The third is Poet's Beach where in 2014 HAP cut in to two five foot chunks of basalt to clear way to a safe access to an existing sandy beach.  To bring life to the site HAP worked with the not for profit Honoring Our Rivers and the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde to inscribe children's poetry about the Willamette River and add Chinook Jargon to the rocks lining the path to Poet's Beach.  HAP will continue to undertake beach clean-up activities to support its mission.


HAP's first major advocating success was working with the City of Portland to install "Swim at your own risk" signage at the Tom Mc Call Bowl and Poet's Beach in downtown Portland.

Hawthorne Cove Concrete Removal

  • Hawthorne Cove Clean up - Before
  • Hawthorne Cove After first round of cleanup

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