Come Celebrate the Willamette River at Big Float 8

On Saturday, July 14th Big Float Returns to the Willamette!

by Sebastian Fortino
Share This Article

In Portland, we have a a wonderful relationship with our waterways and parks. We also have a strong sense of community spirit and love getting outdoors when we’re in high summer. For the eighth year in a row the Human Access Project (HAP) has celebrated our beautiful Willamette River by hosting The Big Float. Willie Levenson, who styles himself whimiscally as “Ringleader” of HAP told us that wasn’t always the case.  Levenson long-ago established a mission to make the river become a focal point of our summer adventures.

“I wanted to have an impact on the relationship Portland has with the Willamette River.  When I moved here 20 years ago the idea of swimming in the Willamette River was taboo. I spent my prior 7 years living in Radford, Virgina and Boise, Idaho. Two communities who had pride in their rivers and by were used extensively for recreation,” Levenson told PQ. “I didn’t like the fact that people in our “green” community made jokes about our river anabolic selfishly I wanted to live in a community that loves its river.”

For the past eight years the event has functioned as a fundraiser for HAP. He explained the event generates only a modest profit most years, for their volunteer organizations. Instead, the benefit from the event is to foster a connection between the community to the river. He calls it “a grassroots movement of people who want to relate differently with our river.” And, that

“The Big Float is a movement dusguised as a party.”

Everyone, the world over knows, Portlanders love a party. Especially one with live music, and the quirky fun one can find from an unusual floatation device. HAP manages other programs to benefit residents, and guests to Portland. The River Hugger Swim Team.

“It’s a recreational protest swim bringing attention to the extreme deficit of rivers edge access in downtown Portland. According to Portland Parks and Recreation only 4% of downtown Portland has access to the rivers edge,” Levenson stated. “The magic of a river happens at the rivers edge. Last year 2,500 attended and this year we are anticipating 4-6,000. ”

To make that happen HAP will have 225 volunteers on the water and on land. The HAP organization also played a strong hand in the creation of to new Downtown beaches: Poet’s Beach, west side under the Marquam Bridge, and the Audrey McCall Beach, eastside under Hawthorne Bridge. There is an event coming up on the Audrey McCall Beach, Splashways takes lace on Sunday, July 22nd, and is fun for the whole family.  This week HAP hosted the  Mayoral Swim in which 400 people swim across the river with the mayor.

One has to ask, how does the organization fight the debris which comes associated with upwards of 2,000 people flocking to the river and river’s edge.  

“We manage trash during the event. No alcohol is allowed,” Levenson explained. “That significantly cuts down on trash.  We do an extensive cleanup before the event with more than 100 volunteers,” and this is in addition to the 225 volunteers mentioned above. For the next year Levenson says HAP’s main goal is to make sure everyone has access to the Willamette. And, to “Have official, designated swim areas for every quadrant of Portland that touches the river.”

So, make sure to take your favorite floats, and the whole family down to the Tom McCall Bowl, at Waterfront Park, at SW Columbia & Naito. 


Visit Big Float 8 to register. The event starts at 11AM and floats until 6:30PM. There will be two bands on floating stages, and a bevy of beautful floats to enjoy. Tickets are $10 in advance, and $15 on day of event with discounts for youth! Happy Summer Portland!