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Tenth and final Willamette River float party on July 10 will be the last one, unless someone else takes on the task.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Part of the parade to Poet's Beach at the Big Float in2018. The 2022 version, Big Float X, will be the last one, unless somone steps up and offers to continue the tradition, said Human Access Project Ringleader Willie Levenson.

The Human Access Project has announced that this year's Big Float on Sunday, July 10th, from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., will be the last.

At the Big Float, Portlanders show up with boats, floatation devices, and inflatable toys and float on the Willamette River from Poet's Beach to the Tom McCall Bowl, and then party on the grass. Over the years, the event has grown, adding security fences, admission tickets, sponsor displays, music and bands playing on a barge moored just South of the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge. Levenson said he hopes the 2022 Big Float will be bigger than any in pre-COVID times. (Registration opens May 17 and costs $6 until May 30, rising to $15 on the day of the event.)

Human Access Project Ringleader Willie Levenson said the Big Float had achieved its main goal of alerting Portlanders to the beauty and strength of the Willamette River, and the fact that humans can swim in it. However, it takes Levenson four months to organize the Big Float. "It burns my wick on both ends," he said. "The stress level is considerable, and being consumed by it is not something I want to get paid for either," Levenson told the Portland Tribune.

Levenson said he prefers to focus on HAP's original goal, fighting the algae bloom at Ross Island Lagoon, as well as establishing more swimming beaches.

The last Big Float in 2019 attracted 4,000 participants, down slightly in 2018 due to cloudy weather. "If it's an 85-degree day we're expecting 7,000 people," Levenson said.

Change

The Human Access Project does cultural change, which means getting people to embrace the river. It is looking for volunteers on water and on land. "If you're not ready to put your toe in the water, you can volunteer to be a safety guide on land at the Big Float," he added.

The Big Float was founded in 2010 and named in tribute to the Big Pipe, which dramatically reduced the amount of sewage that flows into the river during storms. The message was that the Willamette River is clean enough to swim in. Human Access Project opened up Poet's Beach, the Kevin Duckworth swimming dock downtown, and cleaned up Audrey McCall Beach. Proceeds from the event will go to fighting the algae bloom. The group also hosted four Mayoral Swims and three Valentine's Dips. This year, Portland Parks and Recreation will identify and promote five "safer" swimming areas - Poet's, Audrey McCall, Sellwood, Cathedral Park, and Tom McCall Bowl to the public.

Someone else can take over.

"Pete Seeger would always say we're all links in a chain. Hopefully, someone will feel the loss it will inspire them to a do a version of the Big Float, or something else," said Levenson.


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