Earlier this year, a friend of mine posed a question to me:
Where in the Portland area can kids play in a creek or pond without fear of breaking any rules or regulations?
Great question! My son has played in a couple of creeks over the last few years, but I wasn’t sure of anywhere specific that such activity was allowed or encouraged. So I inquired with some folks at different agencies to find out where. The general consensus seems to be that playing in a creek or pond constitutes going “off trail” and could damage habitat restoration efforts at natural areas, so it is not suggested. However, there is an increasing understanding of the importance of people engaging with the natural world, and water play can enhance the nature experience for children. Here is a summary of some responses I received:
Fanno Creek: as this is a muddy-bottomed creek (going through Portland, Beaverton, and Tigard) with no accessible areas of clean gravel to walk across, it is suggested that kids do not play in Fanno Creek. Likewise, the Tualatin River is not suggested for water play.
Portland Parks and Recreation: policy for PP&R is that access to water in natural areas is restricted for natural resource protection, which has high priority. However, in Marshall Park in SW Portland, it is acceptable to play in the creek where the stone bridge is, but the city is looking into how best to allow such use. Unrestricted water access can also be found at several sites along the Columbia Slough (including the Columbia wastewater treatment plant and Kelley Point Park)*, Tanner Springs Park in downtown Portland, and kids can use nets and other tools to search for aquatic life at the dock at Whitaker Ponds Nature Park in NE Portland. While people cannot enter the tadpole ponds at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge in SE Portland, using tools to scoop up water and look for tadpoles and water bugs is an activity I’ve known others to do. While Patrick and some friends once played in Johnson Creek at Johnson Creek Park in SE Portland, PP&R now has signs posted there restricting such access. My son has also played in the water of the Willamette River at Sellwood Riverfront Park in SE Portland.
* a staff member from the Columbia Slough Watershed Council shared the following advice with me: the slough has a very muddy bottom (often 1-2 feet) so it can be a safety risk for people not expecting to sink into mud; there are deep holes due to scour from the reversing tidal flows at the mouth of the slough/Willamette that cannot be seen; at Whitaker Ponds there is a sign that asks people to stay out of the ponds, so please use the “belly biology” float there for access to be near the water; and PP&R’s “unrestricted water access” signs refer to canoe and kayak access.
Metro: Swimming is allowed at Oxbow Regional Park and Blue Lake Regional Park, and people can enter the water at Smith & Bybee Wetlands (which is a popular place for canoeing and kayaking). There are no posted regulations at these parks against entering the water. But, safety is a concern and folks should always be cautious when in a body of water.
So, that’s what I have been able to find out so far. I do know that some environmental education groups provide opportunities to get in water as part of registered programming, usually to search for tadpoles or water bugs.
I would appreciate it if any readers would share locations they aware of or have used for water play! Post in the comments or email me at darwinsbulldog AT gmail DOT com.