River Experiences

Equitable Access Campaign

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.

Being designated a National Water Trail brings additional attention and some resources, but access to the river remains a challenge to many. Most of the formal launches are on the lower part of the river, and many members of our community – particularly in the upper watershed – lack access to launches, to boats, and even to parks and trails along the Tualatin River.

What Does Equitable Access Mean?

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 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, or perhaps feel 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 We’re Doing to Increase Access

In 2022, thanks to support from the Oregon State Marine Board grant, we completed two years of Equitable Access work. This grant-supported work included our first multi-day Paddle Tualatin, which brought elected officials and land managers together to experience in person (and from kayaks) the condition and challenges to equitable access in the Tualatin River watershed. We held multiple paddle events with stakeholders, with this initial work culminating with a pair of charettes.

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, and Washington County has secured funding to rebuild its Eagle Landing launch in the middle portion of the water trail. Additional communities in the upper watershed are exploring new launches and river-fronting amenities, and in 2023 the Marine Board renewed its support of this initiative. We’ll be working with community partners in 2024 and 2025 to develop specific plans to increase access along the river.