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Annual float-and-flirt festival on the Willamette downtown bows out this Sunday after 10 years.

PHOTO COURTESY: HUMAN ACCESS PROJECT - The Big Float on Sunday July 10 will encourage Portlanders to get on the Willamette River.

The final Big Float takes place this Sunday, July 10, at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Big Float X -- as in the Roman numeral 10 as it's called with Super Bowl-ish swagger by organizer Willie Levenson -- will follow its usual format: walk from grassy bowl to Poet's Beach, paddle back, rinse and repeat.

Ticket-holders will parade with their unicorns, swans, kayaks, inner tubes, pool noodle trash gyres and anything else that will keep them buoyant, launch into the water at Poet's Beach and float or paddle a few hundred yards back to base, as many times as they want. There will be bands playing, including Jujuba and The Dusty 45's, where the Blues Festival was held July Fourth weekend, and a giant slip-and-slide for kids and adults on the grassy bowl. The Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers will lead a parade along the boardwalk at 12:30 p.m.

It's the kind of stranger-forward fun that was the hallmark of pre-pandemic Portland. The Big Float brought the swimming hole ethos to downtown: zany watercraft, organized chaos and no body-shaming. It all comes with a subtle environmental message. Levenson calls it "a movement disguised as a party."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Go big or go home: Participants head to Poet's Beach to put in at the Blig Float in 2019. The final Big Float is this Sunday July 10.

Organizers, aided by hundreds of volunteers, provide compressed air for inflating the floaties, as well as lifeguards and a bag check. Food and beverages are available within the perimeter. Everyone on the water must wear a lifejacket, and they can be purchased on site from $10.

Whale meat again

Levenson, the Human Access Project Ringleader, started the Big Float to alert Portlanders to the beauty and strength of the Willamette River, and the fact that it's much cleaner than it was in the last century, and humans can swim in it. The Big Float was founded in 2010 and named in tribute to the Big Pipe, which dramatically reduced the amount of Portland's sewage that flows into the Willamette River during storms.

Levenson said the months it takes to organize this one-day event has become too much work, but he hopes another organization will take over next year.

Over the years, the Big Float has grown, adding security fences, admission tickets, sponsor displays, food concessions and bands playing on a barge moored just south of the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge. Levenson said he hopes 2022's Big Float X will be bigger than any in pre-COVID times.

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.

The temperature is predicted to reach 79 degrees in Portland on Sunday.

IMAGE COURTESY: HUMAN ACCESS PROJECT - The Big Float X on Sunday July 10 will be the last one, as organizers bow out.

The Big Float X

WHERE: Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park, 98 S.W. Naito Parkway

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Sunday, July 10

COST: $15 on the day of the event, kids $6


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