Summer’s Gone: Dive and Dash Until the Smoke Gets in Your Eyes


Ducks like swimming.

Nothing reminds me of what’s great about a Portland summer than the end of a Portland summer. I hold out, hoping the season lingers. The late summer heat inspired us to hit the sometimes frigid, but swimable area rivers and lakes. We had been making late afternoon runs during the hottest part of the day for quick dips to cool off. Then summer had an abrupt end despite more plans to swim. A wind storm blew forest fire smoke into the area creating unhealthy air that was less than ideal for breathing much less swimming. I’m left with memories to share of the spots we managed to visit which created the kind of summer feeling that has to last until the next one.

Poet’s Beach

The sign says it all.

We’d know about Poet’s Beach since it opened. The city’s public relations staff must have got the word out. It’s felt like a tradition to make at least one visit each summer to this make-shift beach under the Marquam Bridge. It was also the end point of the Portlandia Mermaid Parade allowing the assembled mermaids a place to take a dip. The lines of student poetry inscribed on the rocks leading to the beach have faded somewhat but the beach area is wide for a steady stream of visitors. The river is clean, thanks to the big dig project making a rare occurrence out of the sewage overflows that used to make the river unswimable.

Mermaids and more at Poets Beach.

The Willamette River is shallow around the beach that offers a sandy river bottom. The constant boat traffic is either annoying or scenic depending on your disposition. Unless your free parking game is strong, you’ll have to pay to park in the inner SW area. The beach is listed as being part of the South Waterfront City Park. I associated it with its proximity to the Harbor Marina area where the anchor business is a McCormick & Schmidt’s. If the goal is to get wet this is as good a place as any within the city limits.

Henry Hagg Lake

Dog days at Hagg Lake.

This lake is out there if you are looking to get out of town. The nearest barely-a-town-town is Gaston. The boat heavy waters carry the essence of diesel fuel. Then there are the indignities of having to pay seven bucks and weed through a State Park indued traffic jam. Still there’s the uniqueness of the lake’s squishy, muddy bottom along with the antics of the boaters and swimmers that provide entertainment on a summer afternoon. It’s worth at least one visit for the escapism factor and the wide open views of the lake. 

Audrey McCall Floating Dock

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This was our most focused dive and dash experience. What else is there to do besides hang out on a dock or jump in the water? I was surprised to learn that the Vera Katz Esplanade is named after Rich Reece’s cat. The dock offered a shimmering view of downtown and provided a ladder for those unable to heave their bodies out of the Willamette River and back onto the platform. People weren’t concerned about drinking laws. I’m unsure of OCC regulations but I saw at least one guy enjoying beers. The dock may be an unregulated autonomous zone. It was easy to get there from the Eastside industrial area with free parking if you’re up on zone parking regulations. This is an essential spot for however much time one can spare for sunshine, swimming and dog paddling.

Cedar Island

How to make an island.

Who could resist a visit to an island off the coast of West Linn? It’s about as much status as anyone could hope for. In my possibly misguided geological knowledge, it’s a kind of jetty created by the Willamette River where a swimming pond has formed. We found parking outside a gated mansion although there’s boat ramp parking too. It’s necessary to walk through a river side beach area and over a bridge to get to the island. Once there we had the rocky beach to ourselves. The water temperature was fine but you wouldn’t know it from my wade and squat technique for getting in the water.

The author in island waters.

Cross Park

Rocky, not roaring.

You can go to High Rocks Park or Cross Park. Either offers access to the Clackamas River. Cross Park seemed to be more accessible when we dashed down to the Gladstone area for a Friday afternoon happy hour swim. The river wasn’t crowded in the area where we parked. A guy standing in the water told me I’d get used to it if I ever got brave enough to get wet and I did. Minutes later he got in a kayak and paddled away. Our dog had a blast swimming until he was scolded for chasing ducks downstream. The river bed was rocky but despite the current and the mountain run off it wasn’t too treacherous or cold. The water was just right for cooling off after a hot week.

*****

Special thanks to Ronna Craig for her photographs minus the duck and mermaid photos that I took.

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