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 if they wanted – in a safe, public area? That’s the goal of the newly formed not for profit organization, Human Access Project.


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 cridders that live and love the water including humans.

Human Access Project Mission

The Human Access Project has three concentric goals:

1) Creating awareness in the community that the water quality of the Willamette River in downtown Portland is safe to swim and recreate in.

2) Advocate, fundraise and implement the creation of human accessibility points to the Willamette River including but not limited to trails, beaches and docks.


3) Courting the Portland citizenry to fall in love with the Willamette River and facilitate river stewardship and sense of place in the Willamette River 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.  2012 was the second year for TBF, and the second event boasted 1,400 participants.  Planning is already underway for 2013, and the goal will be to reach 2,000 participants.  To encourage minority and lower income participation TBF partnered with the Port of Portland to provide free inner tubes and life jackets to 200 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 65 yards of concrete, over six individual clean up events revealing a sandy beach.  HAP aspires to remove an additional 50 yards of concrete in 2013-2014.  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, where 60 volunteers moved 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 was revealed and after four more community rock moves the result revealed a new public sandy beach for the Portland community to enjoy.  HAP will continue to undertake beach clean-up activities to support its mission.


Perhaps the major advocating success to date was working with the City of Portland to install "Swim at your own risk" signage at the Tom Mc Call Bowl.

Hawthorne Cove Concrete Removal

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

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