Every year, a group of volunteers paddle the 187 miles down the Willamette River from Eugene to its confluence with the Columbia to raise money and raise awareness on behalf of Willamette Riverkeeper, an organization which has taken upon itself the task of advocating for the health of the river and its watershed. This year, in spite of limitations imposed by the pandemic, a small group of volunteers made the 10-day trip downriver anyway, starting on August 8 and finishing on August 17, carefully observing necessary precautions to avoid infecting the paddlers and to prevent them from spreading the virus to other people along their route of travel.
The fundraising goal of this year’s trip is $187,000, “a thousand dollars for each mile,” notes member Heather King. Thus far, they have raised $35,000, and thanks to an anonymous donor, all donations up to $50,000 will now be doubled.
Raising money has been only one of the trip’s goals, though. As Executive Director Travis Williams observes, the broader purpose of the trip was “to connect people with the river, so they can see it and experience it, and learn about its issues and its needs, but appreciate what’s there.”
In spite of severe pollution in some parts of the river, there is also a great deal of natural beauty, and there is no substitute for a trip down the river to get a look at both.
The physical demands of paddling the river and the extra risk of COVID-19 to seniors were a significant concern, but Williams was delighted to see some long-time members of Riverkeeper in this year’s reduced team. He says he was pleased to see them “showing, ‘Hey, I’m 80 years old, I’m 77 years old, and I can go out there and have a blast’.”
With the trip completed, Willamette Riverkeeper noted, “We protect what we love, and we hope our team has inspired you to love the Willamette even more.”
The fundraiser for the Willamette Riverkeeper is still ongoing, and you can donate here.
By John M. Burt & Cara Nixon