The Human Access Project

December 22, 2014 (Updated May 17, 2016)

Will Levenson has a very clear image in his mind of what kind of city he wants to live in, a city that is in love with it’s river. The source of that dream stems from one place – Oregon’s Willamette River. Levenson has been a Portland resident for more than 15 years. On his first day here, he was told that the Willamette River was not a place for people. How could this be? A vibrant, urban city that repels its own water recreation source?

There was a reason for this tempestuous relationship between Portlanders and their river. Historically, the Willamette River, which runs directly through the heart of the city, was known for having unsafe water due to sewer overflow problems. However, that all changed in 2011 when the Big Pipe was completed. One of Portland’s largest public works projects, the Big Pipe has significantly reduced the previous issue of unsightly and unsafe raw sewage and storm run-off flowing directly into the river after any rainstorm. With the Big Pipe now in place, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the overflow and runoff has subsided and the river is safe to swim in once again, leaving it ripe with visiting potential. But how does one access it, when years of industrial activity have led to concrete- and rubbish-laden shorelines?

That is the problem that Levenson is working to solve as the self-proclaimed ringleader of the non-profit organization, The Human Access Project.

With the support of hundreds of volunteers and funding from the Travel Oregon Forever Fund, The Human Access Project has already opened up access to three beach areas along the Willamette’s shores: Poet’s Beach, Tom McCall Bowl Beach, and the Audrey McCall Beach. Each beach offers its own unique setting to locals and visitors alike, including the poetic path that leads people down to Poet’s Beach, lined with stones that are engraved with children’s poems written about their connection to the river.

The Human Access Project is helping to bring a natural treasure to the people of Portland and its guests because, according to Levenson, “the water’s edge is where the magic of rivers happens.”

Want to experience the Willamette River for yourself? Learn more about the Willamette River beaches here.

Want to support The Human Access Project and other projects around the state that are helping to make Oregon a great place to live and visit? Donate to the Travel Oregon Forever Fund today.

About The
Author

Lizzie Keenan
Lizzie Keenan is the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge Regional Specialist. She spends her days working closely with destinations and tourism businesses around the world to help them bring their stories of sustainability to life. As a California native, Oregon is a new and exciting playground for her to explore. You can often find her running through the streets of Portland, stopping for “mandatory” breaks at her favorite food carts and coffee shops to fuel up.

Featured in this story

Poet’s Beach
Tom McCall Bowl Beach
Audrey McCall Beach