As of today, Portland has its first beach on the Willamette

PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland's renewed love affair with the Willamette River continues today with the debut of a bonafide beach under the Marquam Bridge.

The Human Access Project, the nonprofit behind the annual Big Float, is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Portland's' first safe beach on the Willamette River. The site is beneath the Marquam Bridge on the west bank of the Willamette River.

The path to the beach is lined with stones engraved with children's poems about the Willamette River, as well as Chinook words curated by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. Human Access Project leaders have given the beach the unofficial name of "Poet's Beach."

Volunteers removed rock along the river to create the beach as well as the trail leading to it.

"Poet's Beach" is one of several the project is trying to establish in its effort to encourage Portlanders to swim in the Willamette.

It is working to establish Audrey McCall Beach south of the Hawthorne Bridge on the river's east bank, and Tom McCall Beach on the opposite shore. All the projects entail creating access as well as removing rip-rap rock used to fortify the shoreline from the shore to create a smooth beach.

The Human Access Project is led by Will Levenson and is dedicated to promoting swimming and recreation on the Willamette River following the completion of the $1.4 billion "Big Pipe" project. The court-ordered undertaking created a series of giant pipes to collect and store storm water and sewage run-off from rain storms until it can be processed at the city's treatment plant.

The project, which wrapped in late 2011, eliminated most of the sewage spills that regularly contaminated the river when it rained. While much work remains to be done down river at the Portland Harbor Superfund site, the Big Pipe project signaled Portland's renewed commitment to the river.

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