Canoe & Kayak had the outstanding opportunity this August to join Willamette Riverkeeper and 130 new friends at the Chatoe Rogue Farmstead Brewery in Independence, Oregon. We only had 24 hours to experience Paddle Oregon, the multi-day river trip that captures the spirit of the state through a tour of its largest waterway. The riverside brewery campsite made for a great place to start.
Armed with a deep passion for river travel and a fiery pride for Oregon’s largest waterway, the non-profit Riverkeeper has organized the event for the past 11 years. “We wanted to show that we have this darn nice river that is really close to a lot of people,” Executive Director Travis Williams said. “It’s a worthy place to spend time and is totally approachable to completely new paddlers, as well as those having paddled forever.”
Over the course of five days, the trip revealed the Willamette’s hidden treasures and unknown stories. Members of the Grand Ronde tribe joined the group for a day on the water, paddling a massive replica canoe used by their ancestors to travel the river thousands of years ago. A local animal sanctuary brought paddlers face to face with several birds of prey typically viewed only from a distance. Melodies from a bluegrass string band transported the group to the heyday of harvest when thousands of migrant workers would celebrate the end of long work day with music, beverages, and friends.
Even without cultural guest appearances, interpretive wildlife presentations, or hopyard bluegrass hoedowns, Paddle Oregon empowers people to get on the river. With an enthusiastic volunteer support staff, many who return year after year, Willamette Riverkeeper makes it possible for 130 people to travel 100 miles with mere muscles and a little bit of current. “They power themselves,” Riverkeeper Outreach and Education Coordinator Kate Ross said. “If you are new to the sport, this is a big deal.”
From kids to grandparents, locals to foreigners, the group of paddlers is a broad representation of the entire paddle sports community. Handmade wooden canoes and sleek fiberglass sea kayaks alike spend the day spotting wildlife, dodging squirt guns, and navigating the current. At the end of the week, everyone agreed that it’s the camaraderie of a multi-day river trip that makes the event one of the best in country.
— Susan Hollingsworth