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Tualatin Riverkeepers offer chance to experience wilds of the Tualatin River

by: JONATHAN HOUSE - The Tualatin River offers a fantastic first experience for would-be kayakers and canoists, looking for a mellow current to practice in. Sometimes the world can be a noisy place.

But while cars zoom by on Pacific Highway and Highway 217, on the Tualatin River, it’s peacefully quiet.

There’s almost no indication that you’re in the city. There aren’t any of the traditional sounds of civilization. In fact, there are only two sounds out there: The twittering of birds in nearby bushes and the soft sounds of Brian Wegener paddling his canoe.

As watershed watch coordinator with the Tualatin Riverkeepers, he has spent years preserving Washington County’s only river. This year, the group is offering discounted kayak and canoe rentals all summer, in the hopes of getting more folks out onto the river.

On Friday, Wegener’s boss Monica Smiley was busy getting boats ready for several groups wanting to take a trip up the river.

“We really want people to get to know the river because they live here and it’s important because it’s their drinking water and it’s their backyard river,” Smiley said. “But regionally, a lot of people need to know about this because it’s a great place to get started with kayaking or canoeing.”

Riverkeepers are stationed at Cook Park each weekend from July through September (the only months of the year without rain, Smiley said), ready to get people set up with boats and lifejackets.

Smiley said she’d like to see as many people as possible get back out onto the river.

by: JONATHAN HOUSE - An REI kayak class practices in the calm waters of the Tualatin River.“We do paddle trips, and we will get 35 people out onto the river, but having people roll through here all weekend? There are so many more people that get to experience the river.”

At 80 miles long, there’s a lot to experience.

The river is home to an array of critters, Wegener said.

Herons, owls, otters, beavers, turtles, bullfrogs and eagles aren’t uncommon sites.

“When I went out last Friday, I saw two deer and a raccoon swimming across the river,” he said.

Smiley said the river is the perfect place to experience wildlife in person.

“You can see freshwater clams on the river’s bottom,” she said. “I was out here with my son the other day, and it was like a touch tank at the aquarium. This is the real deal.”

Even if you aren’t that experienced in boating, the Tualatin is a great place to learn, Smiley said.

“We’re here to help people who are new,” Smiley said. “We help them every step of the way, picking out the right boat, sizing their life jacket, showing them how to paddle.”

The river’s slow nature makes it the ideal place for youngsters to learn about the river, she said.

“This is totally appropriate for first-timers and families,” Smiley said. “We even have infant-sized life jackets for people.”

Wegener has been paddling the river for years and knows all the river’s hidden secrets.

“This is a great place to watch the Tigard Balloon Festival,” he said. “They come right over the river.”

The Riverkeepers aren’t alone: Several businesses are offering kayaking and canoe lessons along the river.

“People can go out for the first time and have a great trip,” he said.

The Riverkeepers are offering four-hour trips at $20 per kayak and $30 for canoes or tandem kayaks.

That was the right price to get Kwen Peterson and her friends Wubi Hechson and Eric Huston out onto the river.

“For four hours, the price is so ridiculously reasonable, why wouldn’t we come here?” she said as the three paddled a canoe near Jergins Park in Tualatin.

Friday’s nice weather beckoned Peterson to the river, but it was far from her first experience on the water.

A former teacher at MITCH Charter School in Tualatin, Peterson’s first experience was a year ago when she brought her students out on a field trip.

From then on, she said, she was hooked.

by: JONATHAN HOUSE - A blue heron perches on a log in the Tualatin River.“I like the fact that this is so quiet,” she said. “We don’t have many powerboats, and there are no mosquitoes. Up at Smith and Bybee lakes, I felt like a pincushion. And, the ability to go from Cook Park to Jergins Park is really nice.”

Both parks have docks where rowers can stop.

“I’m not sure where we’re going yet,” she said, looking up river. “No place in particular, but we brought a picnic. We’ll do it all.”

Peterson’s enthusiasm for the river is just what Smiley wants to see.

Back in the 1950s, the Tualatin was a popular destination, with attractions like Roamer’s Rest — a local hotspot for fishing, swimming, boating and picnicking.

“The river hasn’t been that way for a long time, but it is starting to again,” Smiley said. “We have fishermen, swimmers, people paddling on weekends. There are days it’s packed down here. This is what Roamers Rest must have felt like back in its heyday.”

So where is the best place to go once you get out on the river?

Wegener suggests you head west.

“Once you get up toward the (Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge), it’s really wild. That’s the stretch that I do most often. There are very few houses up there, and it’s totally wild.”

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