July 24, 2016
Fifty years ago, the city of Eugene’s River House Outdoor Center was officially established — and now, the city is celebrating.
The two-story farmhouse, nicknamed the River House, originally served as a shelter to store outdoor equipment such as canoes, kayaks, mountain climbing gear and camping supplies. Eventually, the house was transformed into an operational office and space to organize and run mostly local outdoor programs.
But the expansive Outdoor Program associated with the historic house now provides the surrounding community with much more.
“The goal of the Outdoor Program has always been to teach people the skills they need so they can confidently go out and enjoy nature,” said Roger Bailey, the Outdoor Program coordinator at the River House. “But oftentimes it teaches people more than that, like tolerating adversity and putting your best foot forward even when it’s hard.”
On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered at Maurie Jacobs Park, near the River House on Adams Street at the edge of the Willamette River, to celebrate the 50-year milestone.
Like any true outdoor celebration, people could be seen bicycling up and down the river path, paddleboarding near the banks of the river and dancing to the bluesy tunes coming from a small stage.
Cedar Sparrow, 12, said he was most excited to eat some cake and play by the river.
“I’m just going to volunteer as much as I can and hopefully get some cake!” Sparrow said.
Sparrow, who was wearing a yellow River House volunteer shirt, said he likes to do a lot of outdoor activities, including tree climbing and rafting down the McKenzie River.Robert Brack was one of several River House employees helping put on Saturday’s event. He and other volunteers were making bracelets out of retired rock climbing ropes by cutting them into small pieces and cauterizing the edges together.
People of all ages picked out the color of rope they wanted to take home as outdoorsy bracelets.
Brack was joined by his wife, Kristen Brack, and their three children, who were helping man the bracelet booth.
“The inclusivity of the organization is one of the best parts about the River House,” Kristen Brack said. “They have something for kids and all the way up to seniors, and they have great adaptive programs as well. They make it so that everyone can have an outdoor experience in Eugene.”
The River House provides guided lessons in nearly every outdoor activity imaginable — including but not limited to tree climbing, bike riding, wilderness survival skills, whitewater rafting, sailing and skiing. The program also offers several free and low-cost instructional classes as well as day camps and drop-in sessions, with options for people of all ages.
Bailey, 56, has worked at the River House for the past 30 years. He says the reason the program has been successful is because of the passion of its staff.
“The people who work here, when they’re enjoying their free time, they’re doing what they do in their job,” he said. “They bring a rich experience to Eugene.”
The city-run program has five full-time employees and 84 part-time employees who specialize in different outdoor specialties.
“Not everyone who works here makes a living,” Bailey said. “They’re just doing it because they’re passionate about it and they love doing it.”
Mel Jackson, an advocate for wild spaces, established the River House in 1966. The program was then expanded, thanks to sponsorships from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department as well as The Register-Guard in the 1970s.
“He was of the belief that if people go out, they’re more likely to want to advocate for it and preserve it,” Bailey said.
The first outdoor classes included backpacking basics, wilderness survival skills, mountaineering and cooking in the outdoors.
“The most expensive workshop that year was camp cooking,” he said. “It was $2 per person.”
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What: The Outdoor Program at the River House offers a wide range of activities such as snowboarding, skiing, kayaking, rafting, sailing, hiking, rock climbing, tree climbing and more to help all Eugene and Springfield-are a residents take advantage of all outdoor experiences.
Where: 301 N. Adams St.
Hours: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday