Hundreds paddle in the Columbia Slough Regatta

See who came out for the event – and which startling group of men provided a great deal of help at this unique outing …

Paddlers, mostly in borrowed canoes, set off to explore the wetland during the 2014 Columbia Slough Regatta.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In many years, the annual Columbia Slough Regatta takes place on the far west end of the waterway.

But, this year, on August 3, it returned to outer East Portland at a “pop-up launch site” on privately-owned land on NE 150th Court at NE Mason Street.

Portland Bureau of Environmental Services Program Coordinator for the Columbia Watershed, Susan “Sloughsan” Barthel, welcomes participants to the 2014 Columbia Slough Regatta.

“We are very grateful to have the use of this site again this year,” said Portland Bureau of Environmental Services Program Coordinator for the Columbia Watershed Susan “Sloughsan” Barthel. “It gives us the opportunity to let people explore the upper, or easternmost, part of the Columbia Slough.”

Asked to recap the history of the event, Barthel recalled, “20 years ago this ‘crazy neighborhood activist’, David Myers Eatwell of the Kenton neighborhood, proposed that we could do what a group was doing in Houston – where they had what they called the ‘Reeking Regatta’.

“He said we have a better waterway – a cleaner waterway – and we have something to celebrate,” Barthel recollected. “At first I thought it was a very wacky idea. And yet, 70 people came to that first event. Since then we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of people coming to these events every year.”

Columbia Slough Watershed Council Education Director Sheilagh Diez is checking in Allison Eby, and her kids Leo and Desi Butzeby.

Over the last two decades, the slough’s water quality has vastly improved, Barthel pointed out. “For one thing, we no longer have Combined Sewer Outflows anymore, and that’s a huge improvement. We are actively working to control other sources of pollution – like storm waters that have pollutants in them, and industrial runoff.

“And, we also have a different regimen, so the water behind the pump stations, and behind the levees, flows more quickly,” Barthel added. “This means there is less algae.”

Nancy Hales and Mayor Charlie Hales paddle along, during the Columbia Slough Regatta.

“It’s a beautiful day on the Columbia Slough,” commented Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.

“This is a section of the slough that I haven’t paddled before,” Hales told East Portland News. “Nancy and I got to paddle from here, up to the big wetland up near NE 181st Avenue.

“We got a good view of that section of the slough,” Hales added. “One of our highlights as we got to pass [Wilkes neighbor] Alice Blatt on her way upstream when we were going downstream. Nobody represents citizen activism on behalf of the environment in outer East Portland like Alice Blatt. Oh yes, and we saw the native plant species out here, and Coopers hawks and ospreys.”

The Hales’ pull up to the temporary dock after their expedition in the eastern Columbia Slough.

The event they’d attended a decade ago was smaller, Hales said. “This is a pretty big operation, and very impressive. There’s hundreds and hundreds of people out here seeing the slough.”

Columbia Slough Watershed Council Education Executive Director Jane Van Dyke greeted Mayor Hales after he disembarked, then commented, “Today, the water level was at a great height for this. There’s lots of evidence of wildlife. We saw a couple of beautiful osprey flying around being very chatty with each other. It’s fun to see the wildlife.”

Many volunteers make it easy for novice paddlers to get in and out of canoes.

“The regatta is our original public event,” Van Dyke said. “The whole idea is to get people out to realize what a great recreational resource there is here in outer East Portland, Fairview, and Gresham.

“And, it’s also important to have people become acquainted with the wildlife and habitat values that we have right here in our city!”

These men in orange jump suits – work crew inmates from the Multnomah County Jail – say they’re proud to be able to serve their community. And indeed, they did a great job!

Learn more about the work of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, and their many events and volunteer opportunities, by visiting their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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