There are plenty of reasons why thousands of people are lured to water every summer.
It could be the sound of water flowing over rocks, the cool breeze that comes off the surface, the refreshing feel on a hot day or the wildlife such an outing attracts.
Whatever the reason, city of Eugene recreation programmer Aimee Goglia and her team of rafting guides know to expect it every year. That’s why they offer so many rafting opportunities — through city summer camps, school field trips and groups such as Nearby Nature and McKenzie River Trust.
Run out of the River House Outdoor Program on N. Adams Street in Eugene, the rafting program also coordinates trips with all the community centers. The River House program does not compete with private outfitters — groups wanting a tour guide and a raft trip are encouraged to call private rafting outfitters.
The rafting season can start as early as April and run through September. At the height of summer, Goglia and her staff of 20 guides are coordinating about five trips a week.
This summer, a rafting camp through the Wayne Morse Family Farm runs July 11 through July 15. Youths ages 6 to 8 will float the Willamette and older kids will float the McKenzie. Another camp based at the Sheldon Community Center will take kids ages 6 to 11 on the Mc-Kenzie River the week of August 1.
Program staff floats the Willamette and Mc-Kenzie rivers often enough to really know the rivers, appreciate their beauty and understand the inherent dangers. They are experts at teaching people the basics of floating these local waterways.
Inflatable rafts dot the Willamette River west of the put-in spot at Aspen and D streets in Springfield. River guide Aimee Goglia led the outing for elementary-age students from Eugene and taught them water safety. (Collin Andrew/The Register-Guard)
Goglia says one of the most important safety tips is to pick an appropriate river for your skill level and to never go alone.
“People should know the river and the runs and be aware of their skill level in relationship to the river,” she says. “People should ask questions about the hazards in the river.”
A common, and potentially deadly hazard, is a “strainer” — a piece of debris in the river that allows water to flow through but would trap a person. A downed log or a shopping cart could be a strainer.
If a person fell out of their raft, she should swim aggressively away from hazards such as strainers and only stand up when moving water is calf-deep or shallower. A swimmer also should swim toward the boat closest to him.
Because falling out of a boat is always a possibility, Goglia recommends always wearing a properly-fitted life jacket.
She said she sees a lot of people overuse ropes and lines in their boats and loose lines can cause people to get entangled in them.
“More ropes in the water causes more chaos,” she says. “People can get tangled on them.”
Above all, Goglia tells boaters to “remain calm.” She says panicking will only lead to bad decisions.
Safety extends beyond humans. Goglia wants boaters to follow the leave-no-trace environmental ethic to protect wildlife and the environment as well.
“We are passing through critters’ homes,” she says. “People should pack everything out that they brought and take only pictures on their trip.”
Feeding the animals only hurts them in the end — people food is unhealthy for wildlife, helps them lose their natural fear of people and can cause them to conflict with people.
Goglia also hopes boaters take a look at the shoreline before stopping. In some cases, killdeer or Canada geese are nesting and the presence of people could disrupt the nest.
Another common activity to avoid on the shoreline: urinating — it’s no joke.
On the Willamette and McKenzie rivers, the volume of water is so large that peeing in the river is preferable to on the shore. “It has more of an impact if people pee on shore,” she says.
Where to go
Goglia has an array of great float trips on the tip of her tongue, and she encourages people to call the River House for help when planning a trip.
For beginners looking for local, short day trips with Class I or II river stretches (that is, an easy, calm section with occasional rapids that are easy to maneuver around), Goglia recommends these:
Up the McKenzie River, put in at Helfrich and take out at Leaburg Dam or at the EWEB boat landing.
Also on the Mc-Kenzie, put in at Armitage County Park and take out on the Willamette River at Marshall Landing on the left, southeast of Junction City. There is also a river right take-out outside Coburg at Cross Roads Lane, the road where Agrarian Ales is located.
On the Willamette River, put in at Island Park in Springfield and take out at River House in Eugene (which does not have a boat ramp) or across the river at Valley River Center. For a shorter run, take out at Alton Baker Park.
On the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, put in at Pengra Access Boat Ramp west of Dexter Lake and take out at Clearwater Park in Springfield.
On the Willamette, put in at Aspen Street/Alton Baker Park and take out at Whitley Landing County Park, in north Eugene.
Dancing on the river
Many of Goglia’s raft guides are younger people who have done raft trips through the city’s summer camp program or through their local elementary school. Goglia loves to see kids connect with the water in the same way she has.
“I love rowing,” Goglia says. “There is a beautiful flow. It is such a dance on the river. When done right, you are finessing rather than muscling your way through a rapid.”
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Plan a trip
Following are a few resources to help plan a river outing:
McKenzie River Guides: A comprehensive listing of river guides and outfitters for the McKenzie River; mckenzieguides.com.
Oregon Paddle Sports: 520 Commercial St., offers classes and rentals for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and rafting. Also connects with rafting guides; oregonpaddlesports.com.
River House Outdoor Program: 301 N. Adams St. For information about river and float trips, call 541-682-5329; eugeneoutdoorprogram.wordpress.com. Also, Aimee Goglia leads private whitewater rowing lessons at $40 for a minimum of three hours. Call 541-682-6358 for an appointment or email email@example.com
The University of Oregon Outdoor Program: 1225 E. 18th Ave. Rental equipment available for members and nonmembers. Summer hours are noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; noon to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday; outdoorprogram.uoregon.edu.
The Willamette Water Trail Guide: This is an excellent resource for planning a river trip, Goglia says, including equipment must-haves; willamettewatertrail.org/about-the-water-trail.
Sponsored by the Lane County Sheriff’s Office and the Eugene Emerald Valley Rotary Club, the sixth annual Life Jacket Exchange Event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, at the Springfield Cabela’s, 2800 Gateway St. Here’s how it works: Bring outgrown or unused life jackets to Cabela’s and exchange it for a properly fitted child’s life jacket. Experts on hand will check for proper fit. Call 541-682-4179 for information.