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Equitable River Access

In 2020, after decades of advocacy by Tualatin Riverkeepers and others in the community, the Tualatin River Water Trail became only the second river trail in Oregon designated as a National Water Trail.

National Water Trail! That has a nice ring to it and we’re (super) (very) proud and excited, but… to fulfill the full recreational potential that we dream about for the Tualatin, much more work needs to be done.

That’s why, also in 2020, we announced our Equitable Access Campaign (see video below) to call attention to the need for more and better public access to this regional treasure.

Challenges to Equitable Access

Novices and families with small children often tell us how much they love being on the Tualatin River. It’s an easy river to paddle with an abundance of nature to enjoy.

But here’s the problem: access to the river is still a challenge for many in our community. If you don’t live along the river, don’t own your own boat, don’t have a vehicle to haul your boat, or don’t have the economic means to procure a boat and equipment, your options can be limited. If you have physical challenges or language barriers, feel like you’re too young or too old, have a bit of anxiety around water, or feel otherwise culturally excluded, you probably are not going to feel comfortable attempting access without guidance and support.

Few of the public access sites have safe, adequate launch facilities, and even fewer have visitor facilities. Some access points are merely a muddy strip of land under a bridge, surrounded by invasive and thorny blackberry vines, with little or no safe parking, no restrooms, trash receptacles, loaner life vests, and no signage with even most basic information.

Other access points have steep muddy embankments, missing docks or ramps that have long since washed away. Only one has any significant Spanish-language signage, despite the fact that nearly 20 percent of watershed residents identify as Latinx or Hispanic. And the 18-mile portion in the center of the navigable section – through several units of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, with some of the most peaceful, natural, and beautiful paddling in the Metro area – has no public access at all.

What Tualatin RiverKeepers is Doing to Increase Equitable Access

In 2021, thanks to funding from our members and an initial Oregon State Marine Board grant, we hosted our first multi-day Paddle Tualatin. This event brought local elected officials and public land managers together to experience in person (and from kayaks) the condition and challenges to equitable access in the Tualatin River watershed. We are planning similar paddle events for this summer to continue creating these experiences and dialogs with critical stakeholders.

Our social media campaign has begun to collect and share the stories of those cut out or cut off from the community’s river and to build and amplify community support for improvements.

Our Equitable Access project work is starting to pay dividends. Tigard’s Cook Park will soon become the second Tualatin River dock with adaptive hardware to facilitate access for those with physical challenges. Two proposed new launches will fill the access gap in the middle portion of the water trail. We’re working with the cities of Cornelius and Hillsboro to address the lack of safe public access in the upper part of the Tualatin watershed. In the lower part of the watershed, the Oregon Department of Transportation is considering plans for a new launch near the I-205 bridge, as part of an expansion and seismic upgrade project.

Expanded Boat Rentals, Expanded Access

This summer, we have expanded our low-cost canoe and kayak (and sometimes paddleboard) rentals with new boats and trailers! This allows us to serve the community with rentals in places beyond Cook Park, where the launch has become increasingly crowded in the summer. Look for news on dates and locations on the River Rentals page on our website.

GIS Project on Equitable Access to the Tualatin River

This presentation was made by one of our Board Members, Val Brenneis, who did a GIS project assessing where Tualatin Riverkeepers should focus on advocating for access to the river. The upper watershed appears to be the best area to focus this effort, as this area is largely populated by people of color with fewer access points to the river than in the lower watershed.