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Dean Hall, 59, battled cancer, then dedicated his life to conservation; he was the first person to swim the entire length of the Willamette River, and now adds the California river to his resume

COURTESY: DEAN HALL - Dean Hall and his daughter, Bre, navigated the Eel River in California to shine a light on wild and scenic waterway protection.Dean Hall felt a "kinship" with the Eel River in Northern California. He had battled leukemia and lymphoma, and lost his wife to cancer. And, the Eel River had suffered its own ills from drought, timber harvests and loss of salmon population.

So it was carthartic for Hall to swim 75 miles on the South Fork of the Eel in 30 marathon segments of about 2.6 miles each to shine the light on conservation efforts for the river, for wild and scenic waterway protection in general, and to help raise money for the Friends of the Eel River. He called it "FOERWARD 30."

It took him less than two weeks to swim it.

"It was a total success," says Hall, a Portland therapist and Gresham resident who five years ago became the first person to swim the 184 miles of the Willamette River. "We accomplished 30 marathons and 75 miles in safety and relative ease. That's all we could find in South Fork that was swimmable."

COURTESY: DEAN HALL - Dean Hall, who swam 75 miles of California's Eel River, has committed to a life of 'adventure environmentalism.'Hall was accompanied by his daughter, Bre, who acted as his safety boater in a kayak.

"They had two weeks of heavy downfall, and I thought it would be good for me, and it was, but with Class I and II rapids I was playing human pinball," Hall says.

"Some guys were saying that where I was swimming hasn't seen water in 20 years."

The 59-year-old Hall, the first person in history to swim the entire length of the Willamette River (2014) and the River Shannon in Ireland (2017), has dedicated the rest of his life to pioneering a new field he calls "adventure environmentalism."

He had not heard of the Eel River, but knew that it flowed through the Redwood National Forest in Northern California. He watched a documentary about the river to help prepare.

It's a river that had a large population of nonhatchery salmon, but clear-cut logging and runoff ruined some spawning areas. While wineries have always used water from the Eel, lately it's been illegal marijuana farmers who have been siphoning off water. So the salmon population was depleted.

Five years ago the river ran dry, and "that's when I was running dry myself having suffered the grief from losing my wife to brain cancer in 2010 and doing extremely poorly with leukemia and lymphoma," Hall says. "So I felt like I had a bit of a weird kinship with the Eel."

He adds: "Mother Nature being Mother Nature, she found a way and came back with a vengeance, and California has done a great job to protect it, and help salmon come back."

So, what's next? Hall turns 60 next year "and I got a big one planned." Stay tuned.


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