The Water Trail was created in response to identified community needs for increased water recreation opportunities and improved access to the river. In a series of public open houses, hosted by the Mid Willamette River Connections group (MWRC) along the Willamette River, the public overwhelmingly identified the need for a water trail as an opportunity to promote the river. Approximately 200 people attended the open houses in Salem, Corvallis, and Dundee, where they shared their interests and concerns, provided their input on questionnaires and large-format maps, and had a chance to interact with local experts. One of the central themes that emerged from the open house process was the public desire to improve access along the Willamette River. There was consistent support for the creation of the Willamette Water Trail. The MWRC responded to this public need and worked in partnership with Oregon Governor Kulongoski and local communities to create the Willamette River Water Trail.
Over the next two years this partnership effort will be expanded up and down river to create a seamless water trail experience from Eugene to the confluence with the Columbia River. The Willamette American Heritage Rivers Initiative and the NPS Rivers & Trails program have worked together to provide technical assistance and leverage resources to support this exciting cooperative effort
Examples of Key Partners
The Willamette River Water Trail was officially dedicated on June 4th, National Trails Day, by Oregon Governor Kulongoski, Congresswoman Darlene Hooley, the Mid- Willamette River Connections Workgroup (MWRC) and more than 150 supporters who joined the celebration. Immediately after the dedication, over 50 canoes, drift boats, and sea-kayaks participated in an eight mile float trip on the new Water Trail.
The Willamette River Water Trail is a locally-based effort led by a coalition of numerous public agencies, NGOs, and private interests along the river. The coalition, the Mid-Willamette River Connections workgroup, received technical assistance from the Willamette American Heritage River Initiative and the National Park Service’s Rivers & Trails program to assist this collaborative effort by helping to convene and conduct planning sessions, involve the public in the development of the trail, coordinate volunteers to inventory and assess public access sites along the river, and develop a plan and guidebook for the water trail. You can download the guidebook and read more about the water trail at http://www.willamettewatertrail.org/
MWRC has been the lead organization in planning and implementing the Willamette Water Trail. The U.S. Forest Service and the BLM, through the Willamette American Heritage Rivers Initiative and the National Park Service’s Rivers & Trails Program, helped create the mid-Willamette River connections workgroup to strengthen local community capacity. The MWRC is a partnership effort that works to connect the people of the Mid-Willamette Valley to the River and to each other. Representatives from state agencies, counties, and the cities of Corvallis, Albany, Independence, Salem, and Keizer; from councils of governments, and non-governmental organizations are working in together “To celebrate the Willamette River as a cherished natural treasure that enriches our lives as individuals and has the power to reconnect the entire mid-Willamette valley as a united community”.
Results and Accomplishments
The Opening event was a culmination of two years of community driven planning and implementation. Donations of more than $55,000 from private companies - including G.I. Joe's Sports Store, Columbia Sportswear, and Tom’s of Maine - were highlighted for helping to make the trail a reality. Oregon Governor Kulongoski, as part of his Willamette River Legacy, has provided resources to support the effort including assistance from Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon Marine Board, and the Oregon Tourism Commission.
The first section of the Willamette River Water Trail extends 35 miles from Buena Vista (just north of the Willamette's confluence with the Santiam River) to Wheatland (14 miles north of Salem). This middle stretch of the 187 mile river has been mapped out to create a scenic, educational, and enjoyable experience for recreational canoers and kayakers. Water trails and hiking trails have a lot in common: they can be short or long; historic or scenic; remote or populated; and challenging or relaxing. Currently, there are over 100 publicly-owned properties that are well-distributed along the Willamette River’s length, many with existing public access points. The Willamette River Water Trail has linked together public parks and open space managed by municipal, county and state ownership through uniform signage to allow paddlers to enjoy the scenery, tranquility and natural wonders of the Willamette River. The Water Trail will become a signature Oregon recreation experience, and offers promising opportunities for future public-private partnerships including tourism and river-based economic revitalization that will benefit local communities long the Willamette River.
The Water Trail is supported by an inventory of the Willamette River’s public lands and the Middle Willamette River Water Trail Plan that were developed in a partnership effort by the Mid- Willamette River Connections Workgroup. A new Water Trail Guide and website (www.willamettewatertrail.org
) have been produced to provide valuable information for the public - assisting visitors on segments of the river to paddle and camp and what to expect during their experience on the Willamette River. The detailed mile-by-mile river Guide lists suggested day paddles, overnight camping paddles, launch sites, camping sites, and contains important information concerning safety, equipment rentals, restaurants, supplies and lodging.
The Willamette River Water Trail exemplifies how partnership efforts can achieve results that benefit local communities.