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Human Access Project urges residents to take a dip on Saturday, July 14 at Poet's Beach.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - River-goers wait to take the splash off Poet's Beach and into the Willamette River during the 'Big Float 8' on Saturday, July 14 in downtown Portland. Splish splash! Portland's taking a bath.

The Rose City's floaters, boaters, kayakers and doggy paddlers converged on the Willamette River on Saturday, July 14 for the eighth-annual Big Float, a beach-blanket party that gets everyday citizens all wet as they glide from bridge to beach.

Organizers said some 4,000 people had pre-registered, with another 2,000 expected to lather on sunscreen and grab a life jacket for the event that ran from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

"By getting on the water on the regular, it makes it tougher for us to treat the river poorly," said Ryan Rush while balancing a family-sized purple dragon inflatable on his head. The Portland resident has been coming to the Big Float for years.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Two people hold donut inflatables at the beach bowl at Tom McCall Waterfront Park on Saturday, July 14.Why? "I don't have a boat."

Rush is a bit of an anomaly. The Human Access Project — which runs the Big Float and the River Hugger swim team — estimates that 75 percent of attendees have never swam in the Willamette before.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A man rests on an inflatable innertube on Saturday, July 14 during the 'Big Float 8' in Portland.Willie Levenson is trying to be the change. The Human Access Project ringleader calls the Big Float "a manifesto" to transform the average person's relationship with the water. He see the river as roughly 4,000 acres of parkland, albeit without that leafy green hue.

"This is our city's blue space — and it's completely unactivated," he said. "Today, our river is swimmable. This is something we should celebrate."

Many people at the Big Float hop in the water as soon as they clear the gates surrounding Tom McCall Waterfront Park's "Bowl Beach." But there's also a landlocked afternoon parade that takes attendees south to Poet's Beach, where hundreds took the plunge before enjoying the leisurely 90-minute trip back to the waterfront.

There's also a slip-n-slide, bouncy slide, a masseur, reps educating locals about nearby watersheds and a floating stage where bands perform (and one man proposed).

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Pirates fired off this one-pound swivel gun (it was not loaded with projectiles) during the 'Big Float 8' on Saturday, July 14.Oh yeah, and pirates.

"We're here to help people into the river. As pirates, that means we grab them by the belt and throw them in," said Capt. Mark "Topknot" Axton, who leads the pirate crew of the Outrageous Fortune.

Marlee Reese drove with a friend to Portland from Prosser, Washington — a town of 6,000 that sits on the Yakima River — to participate in the Big Float. In ag country, you sometimes see dead cows floating by, so a little muddy runoff was hardly a deterrent for her.

"It's not like it's one big pool, it's constantly flowing," the 23-year-old said. "I don't think it's gross."

Our reporter forgot to apply sunscreen before taking these photos:

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A crowd ready to float in the Willamette River lines the path leading to Poet's Beach on Saturday, July 14.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A mermaid lounges in a inflatable clam shell on Saturday, July 14 on the Willamette River as part of the 'Big Float 8' in Portland.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A scurvy gaggle of pirates sated themselves on Poet's Beach on Saturday, July 14 in downtown Portland.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Two mermaids laid in the shallow waters of the Willamette River on Saturday, July 14 during the 'Big Float 8' festivities in downtown Portland.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A sign alerts those hopping in the water that they're 'leaving Poet's Beach' on Saturday, July 14 during the 'Big Float 8' in Portland.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Swimmers hold inflatables including a mustachioed taco and a faux Whoopee Cushion on Saturday, July 14 during the 'Big Float 8' in Portland.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A kayaker in a jester hat welcomed swimmers with the River Huggers team after they crossed the Willamette River on Saturday, July 14.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - People enjoy the 'Big Float 8' on Saturday, July 14 in downtown Portland.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A woman enjoys the slip-n-slide on Saturday, July 14 during the 'Big Float 8' in Portland.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Two people enjoy the Willamette River on Saturday, July 14 in Portland.


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