In Mayor Ted Wheeler's proposed city budget released this week, there's an interesting $158,000 line item in the park bureau budget: Build a swimming beach under the west side of the Marquam Bridge. The idea is to get more people access to the water on warm days.
The Willamette River is sometimes all we have to cool off near on hot days. But the thought of getting in, and swimming? We asked people walking along the waterfront about it. Danielle Henry loves a beach idea to hang out at, but would not swim saying, "When I was in high school we always joked that if you swam in the Willamette you'd come out with an extra limb!"
Ella Jackson had a different take, "I would yeah, I'd just have a nice shower after."
"I would," said Lindsay McDonald, out on a walk with a friend. "I think I'd have to make sure the testing was OK first." Her friend Gregory Pothier though said, "Nope, sorry. It's still too gross."
The city says the river is safe, just don't drink the water. To get people to love the Willamette again, and not just view it as industrial, Mayor Ted Wheeler has talked about turning Poetry Beach, into an actual beach for months.
The site is along the river trail and already has a walking path down to the water for a small boat ramp. Under this winter's high water level, there is a sandy beach down there. The mayor is proposing adding a lane line out in the water to mark off safe swimming, bathrooms, maybe a lifeguard, park ranger safety patrols, picnic tables and possibly even inviting a food cart to set up nearby.
"I think it's a great idea, I think a lot of people would use it," said Lindsay McDonald. "I think it would be amazing, and I would love to go swimming here."
Ella Jackson agreed saying, "This would be a good way to get out and not travel three hours to get to a beach, it's smart."
So does Tim Bigley out walking on his lunch break, "I think it would be a cool way of getting into the water if you wanted to, a nice little get away."
Others on Facebook and Twitter responded to our story, questioning spending $158,000 of taxpayer money on something like this when we have so many potholes to fix. Some say it'll just attract more homeless camps. The mayor's office says the money isn't much in comparison to the whole budget, and it's worth it.
"Getting people to challenge the notion that the river is just a thing to drive over and inviting people to get back into it and reconnect with the Willamette is the goal," said Wheeler's senior policy advisor Nathan Howard. "I would say a $158,000 is not 'nothing' but it is a small portion of the city budget and really it is a very worthwhile investment to tell the story of the renaissance of the Willamette and all of our public investment has created something we can all experience and is much healthier than it was a couple decades ago."
If it's approved in the final city budget at the end of May, Poetry Beach would be fixed up and ready to open as a swimming beach in July through September this year. If this pilot beach goes well, there are plans to invest in the Eastbank Crescent Park on the east side of the river near the Hawthorne Bridge. A floating dock is already very popular with sunbathers and kayakers, but it would be torn out and replaced with multiple docks for swimming and boating, and a sandy beach with picnic tables and restrooms would be built.