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Tualatin Riverkeepers celebrates 25 years of Discovery Days

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Discovery Day volunteers Dave Summers, left, and Richard Harrold help folks get into their kayaks and canoes on the Tualatin River.As far as rivers go, Tualatin’s stream isn’t exactly treacherous. It’s an easy-going, amiable river, one that doesn’t worry much about propelling floaters to their destinations. This makes it a dream for novice canoeists, kayakers and paddle boarders alike. And for those with a little more experience, a float on the Tualatin River is a day made for relaxation.

Last Saturday, the Tualatin Riverkeepers celebrated the 25th annual Tualatin River Discovery Day, and even a little morning rain couldn’t stop the event.

“Wear a raincoat. Keep a towel in your car. If we get caught in a downpour, we can wait under a bridge until it stops,” wrote Riverkeeper advocacy and communications manager Brian Wegener in an email prior to the event. He meant business.

Luckily for the event’s 200 participants, the day was downpour free. Floaters were invited to make reservations and bring their own gear, or to rent the essentials from the Riverkeepers for $30. The float began at Tualatin Community Park and ended 3.5 miles downstream at Metro’s Borland. While some participating groups were small, many people took it as an opportunity to round up friends and family for a couple hours on the water.

One meandering group was with the Mt. Hood SkiKats, which aside from skiing during the winter, goes on frequent bike rides, hikes and floats during the spring and summer months. In the group was Henry Bendinelli, a month shy of his 90th birthday with friends quick to share his accomplishments.

“He’s a little active,” said friend and fellow club member Jeannie Coyle. “Henry’s a diehard skiier— no snowboarding. Diehard canoer — no kayaking.”

And since the native Oregonian has skiied Timberline every year since it opened (and a few years before that), it’s not hard to believe that he’s been taking advantage of Oregon’s other natural wonders, as well.

“Why do I like this river? Because nobody’s ever on it, that’s why,” Bendinelli said with a laugh. “I bought my first canoe in the 1970s. We were kind of an anomaly in those days.”

Though he wasn’t doing much of the paddling on Saturday, Bendinelli didn’t hesitate to offer advice to his fellow canoeists.

“Who’s guiding this?” he said as their fleet starting shifting toward the bank. “Give us a swift push on the right, will ya?”

With that, the crew aligned the boats and went back to floating straight down the river.

The volunteers

To make sure that all the participators at Discovery Day made it through the trip safely and enjoyably, safety boats were placed throughout the route at several different mile markers. Two of these volunteers were Paul and Molly Whitney, a father/daughter duo who’ve been volunteering with the Riverkeepers for more than two decades.

As a retired ecologist, Paul Whitney has helped with some of the more technical aspects of the river’s maintenance. For Molly Whitney, growing up on the river gave her a career objective, and was even the basis for her undergraduate thesis project. Today, she does development work for Water Watch of Oregon.

“The Tualatin River was the catalyst for all that,” she said. “It’s so nice to have a river that’s here that you can get out on . . . It’s a river right in your own backyard.”

Even for her father, who used to canoe through Alaska for weeks on end, the Tualatin River has always been a welcome attraction.

“When you’re away from the highway . . . it gets quiet. I refer to it as the ‘undiscovered wilderness,’” Paul Whitney said. “I can feel my heart rate lower. It’s relaxing.”

Throughout the 25th Discovery Day, words like relaxing and peaceful were the first ones mentioned when participators explained what brought them out. The Tualatin River might not be challenging to maneuver for experienced water people, but it’s an escape from reality right in the middle of town.