A mom and her two sons putting on life jackets before they push their kayaks out onto the river.

Willamette River Water Trail Project and Steering Committee

Budget: $29,727

One of WVVA’s main Destination Development tactics in the 2019-2021 biennium was work surrounding the Willamette Water Trail. This work was initially led by Travel Oregon through an Oregon Recreation Studio. The steering committee began convening in September 2019 and is still meeting monthly on the objectives of the group.

The group is composed of 22 different stakeholders at the local, regional, and state level. The initial priorities were to elevate the visitor experiences on the Willamette Water Trail. The group was planning to hold community-based workshops in April of 2020 but those were cancelled due to COVID-19. The steering committee continued to work and charge through all the challenges of COVID-19.

Eighty members of the The Willamette Water Trail steering committee pose together while wearing masks and other personal protective gear after doing a trash clean up on the Willamette River.
WVVA staff, Katie McFall and Tori Middelstadt, while wearing masks due to COVID-19 stand next to multiple boxes, stacked taller than they are, filled with various sizes of almost 800 life jackets.
Community members and WVVA staff take action in response to heightened visitation.

In the summer of 2020, the group moved to an emergency action response to try to mitigate the sharp increase in visitation to the river—this included funding porta-potties, trash clean-ups, safe boater messaging, life jacket information, and other destination management tools. Following summer of 2020, the group saw the amount of tragedy that various rivers, lakes, and bodies of water in Oregon experienced regarding people not wearing life jackets (preventable deaths) and worked closely with the Oregon State Marine Board, Oregon State Parks, and local partners to create a Water Safety toolkit that could be used locally as well as around the state to model best practices. In partnership with the Oregon State Marine Board, WVVA created a life jacket commitment letter for businesses, tourism entities, outfitters, and guides to make the commitment of modeling best practices, including using images of people wearing life jackets and images of people boating responsibly in consumer-facing content.

WVVA applied for a Destination Ready grant on behalf of the steering committee to prepare for another busy season on the Willamette Water Trail. The steering committee was awarded a grant for $50,000 which went to fund life jacket kiosks, a bulk order of 800 life jackets, BIPOC/breaking down barrier paddles, river clean-ups, porta-potties, and trash containers. The goal of the grant was to implement many of these items before summer 2021 to prepare and get ready for another high-use season. WVVA was able to get five kiosks built, life jackets delivered, and boat safety messaging, trash clean-ups completed prior to Memorial Day. WVVA has continued to lead this work and move the group towards the immediate needs of the river during this expected change in visitation on the river.

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