With heat waves washing over the Willamette Valley, the dog days of summer offer some fun yet: the fourth annual Willamette River Festival prevails despite coronavirus, drawing the community to the water and the rich history of its landscape.
The festival, hosted by Willamette Riverkeeper in partnership with an entire web of community partners through Saturday, offers a new festival “footprint” in the age of social distancing.
“COVID circumstances required us to think about the festival a little bit more creatively in how we might engage people with the river,” Michelle Emmons, festival director, said. “One of the goals this year was to really expand the idea of what does it mean to recreate in, on and around the river.”
In previous years, the weeklong festival would feature booths and activities around the natural areas of Alton Baker Park, stretching from the duck ponds in Eugene to the Eastgate Woodlands in Springfield.
The festival still spans Alton Baker Park — and throughout the greater Willamette Valley up to Portland, depending on how you play — but it’s self-guided. The festival takes on values of history, culture, ecology and recreation through walking tours, geocache hunts, education days and a paddle challenge.
The Great Greenway BioBlitz uses the app iNaturalist to guide people through the Willamette River Greenway.
“‘Bio’ means ‘life,’ and ‘blitz’ means ‘to do something quickly and intensively.’ Together they make ‘BioBlitz’, a collaborative race against the clock to discover as many species as possible, within a set location, over a defined time period,” according to the Willamette River Festival website.
Similarly, the walking tours and PaddleCross Challenge lead the community on an adventure. The Kalapuya “Talking Stones” Cultural Walking Tour is meant to reintroduce the Kalapuya language into the community on the lands and natural resources they once used through art.
I started off my work day on part of the Kalapuya “Talking Stones” Cultural Walking Tour. The tour is a part of the fourth annual Willamette River Festival.
— Dana Sparks (@danamsparks) August 17, 2020
The Talking Stones tour also will lead to the the Whilamut Transportation Crossover Mural by artist Susan Applegate and graphic designer Niki Harris under the Knickerbocker Bridge. The “UpStream Art Stormwater Tour” and “West Eugene Wetlands Walking Tour and Activity” are two additional options.
The PaddleCross Challenge is a self-led challenge through the canoe canal and down the Willamette River, steering both novice and expert level paddlers through the veins of the river. Tuesday is PaddleSports Education Day, and Thursday is River Safety Education Day with the city of Eugene River House Outdoor Center on social media channels.
The city of Eugene, Willamalane, University of Oregon Outdoor Program and WREN have partnered with Willamette Riverkeeper on the festival the past four years, and the event also features a variety of local donors and collaborations including recreation groups and indigenous media.
“We’ve got this beautiful resource that runs through the center of our town that connects Eugene and Springfield. People can walk, hike, find little natural trails to go explore along the river,” Emmens said. “They can ride a bicycle all the way around the Greenway, they can get into boats, of all shapes and sizes, and go and be on the river itself, or they can explore the canals and some of the tributaries that connect the river itself.”
For more activities, resources and a comprehensive event calendar, visit willametteriverfest.org.
For information on equipment rental, Willamette Riverkeeper Michelle Emmons recommends contacting Oregon Paddle Sports or the UO Outdoor Program.
Contact reporter Dana Sparks at [email protected] or 541-338-2243, and follow her on Twitter @danamsparks and Instagram @danasparksphoto.