“Willamette Warrior” Crew

“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”

― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder


The Put-in

On the water, we’re all headed downstream… and so is our trash. Where does it go? Out-of-sight, out-of-mind? The solution to pollution is dilution? Some would erroneously believe so until you are the one to float through it, swim in it, drink it, irrigate with it, or yes, step in it, along its banks. So, who are the brave souls who clean it up? Who are these “Willamette Warriors” who pick up often unidentifiable but “better wear some gloves” kind-of-objects dumped, floating, and stuck in and along the River? One such warrior group is Cascadia Expeditions.

Cascadia Expeditions’ owner, Brett Gallagher, and guides have started to organize monthly clean-ups of the Willamette River. They encourage volunteers from all walks of life and partner organizations to join them in giving back to the River and the community. Cascadia Expeditions is a Corvallis-based guiding company whose guides offer outdoor adventures across Oregon. Their mission is to connect with people and help them explore and, in turn, connect with nature and have an awesome and memorable time doing it. While offering land-lover adventures like rock climbing, hiking, and backpacking, Cascadia often takes folks of all ages and experience levels out on rivers from fun floats to Class IV whitewater.

I first learned of Cascadia through a Greenbelt Land Trust ‘Breakfast with the Birds’ member float down the Willamette. Cascadia guides led the trip where we saw amazing wildlife, including playing river otters, stoic bald eagles, teetering spotted sandpipers, and a deer who decided to go for a long, cool swim. We also had the most delicious breakfast along a gravel bar with wildflowers in bloom. As with any community that’s grown-up along a historically important waterway, the Willamette is the life-blood of Corvallis and the entire Willamette Valley.  Cascadia Expeditions sees the importance of protecting the Willamette’s health because it’s good for nature, good for business, and it just feels good.

Spotting nesting osprey along the Willamette River during a Greenbelt ‘Breakfast with the Birds’ float led by Cascadia Expeditions.

Spotting nesting osprey along the Willamette River during a Greenbelt ‘Breakfast with the Birds’ float led by Cascadia Expeditions.

This summer, I had an evening free when Cascadia was launching a volunteer work party, so I jumped at the chance to go along. Get in my boat! Let’s go for a float….


Volunteer for the Cause

So here’s a bit of back-story. In June of 2016, Cascadia launched the first of their monthly river clean-ups. On August 10th, I joined Cascadia for their third river clean-up event. Keep in mind this is something they do after work on their own time. No paid overtime here! Three boats were on the Willamette that sunny and warm evening, and I was in Jake Attebery’s. An experienced guide and paddler, he rowed against the current and maneuvered us to various stopping points along the River’s islands and banks where we nimbly jumped ship to pick up trash. This trip took us from the Crystal Lake boat ramp to Michael’s Landing. Even in this short stretch there was a lot of trash- metal car parts to bottles, road signs, cigarette butts, and yes, even human feces.  In these three trips alone, Cascadia and volunteers have pulled literally tons of trash from the Willamette.

Our trusty captain, Jake.

Our trusty captain, Jake.

You never know what you are going to find in and along the River that doesn’t quite belong there. But the point is to get out there and do something constructive about it. You won’t find advertisements for this modest group’s clean-ups. You won’t even see any fanfare on their website. I only heard about their work parties by word-of-mouth. So, if you want to make a difference, contact Brett Gallagher to find out when the next clean-up is scheduled. And as an added incentive, every volunteer gets a free float down the river!

Guides, Jake and Alex, fill up the “garbage barge.”

Guides, Jake and Alex, fill up the “garbage barge.”


The Litter Lens (aka if you want to get technical)

With most rivers flowing southward, the Willamette decided to go against the main current and chart its meandering course to the north. From its assorted lake and high mountain tributaries in the Cascade and Coast Ranges (11,000 miles of waterways worth!), the headwaters seem as diverse as the folks who use the River along its wild to urban 187-mile run. At the Portland terminus, its mouth feeds the Columbia River before heading towards the Pacific. The Willamette drains the 4,000 square-mile Valley nestled between the two mountain ranges- an area that supports two-thirds of the State’s population. Two-thirds! The Willamette River’s significance, use, and threats along this gauntlet cannot be overstated, and these statistics put the River and its conservation challenges into clearer focus.

The confluence of the Mary’s and Willamette Rivers tends to also merge trash.

The peaceful confluence of the Mary’s and Willamette Rivers tends to also merge trash.

The Willamette River formed over tens of millions of years- a geologic snail’s pace compared to its 32,950 cubic feet per second flow rate on an average day. This means a plastic bottle carelessly tossed in the River at the Crystal Lake boat ramp in Corvallis will end up bobbing along in the Columbia River about 10 days later. The human tendency to turn public spaces into dumpsites seems to be one of the “tragedy of the commons.” Garrett Hardin’s controversial economic theory describes a pattern we sometimes witness with the environment1. Each person tries to maximize her use of a resource. The more people, the more use. This increased demand eventually leads to no one enjoying any benefits. In other words, we ruin it for each other. But, that’s if you take Hardin’s words to heart and look at the glass half empty. This apparent void of responsibility can cause people to point fingers in every direction but their own and never feel the need to step up. What really matters is when the boat hits the water (for you car-centric ‘rubber hits the road’ folks, just keep flowing with my water metaphor). There are folks using the Willamette River nearly every day who not only take memories and leave only footprints, they help to reverse this tragedy trend by dawning life jackets, rubber gloves, and paddles to make a positive and noticeable difference on the River.  They wisely use the Willamette as a resource and are also champions for its health and sustainability.


Even Warriors Need Reinforcements

To accomplish their goals of getting people out on the River to experience it, learn about it, and appreciate it, Cascadia Expeditions partners with a host of non-profits to provide this opportunity to all, no matter people’s abilities or means. Strengthening Rural Families, Jackson Street Youth Services, and Benton County Developmental Diversity Program are just a few of the local groups and nonprofits that Cascadia works with to provide undeserved, disabled, and under-resourced youth with outdoor adventure and learning programs.

But it takes more than a mission statement and something deeper than a business model based in reciprocity and partnerships to give back to the community. It takes individuals, each with an environmental ethic and sense of civic engagement, to make this the company culture and the exemplary day-to-day status quo. In other words Cascadia guides walk (or rather paddle) the talk, and they inspire others to get involved and volunteer to give back.


Save the Date! The Great Willamette Clean-Up

Cascadia Expeditions is a sponsor and participant of the upcoming 2016 Great Willamette Clean-Up. On Saturday, October 1st, join Cascadia for the Willamette Riverkeeper’s annual river-wide community day-of-action. Volunteers use canoes, kayaks, SUP boards, and rafts to “get dirty for good.” Click HERE for more information and to sign-up!

Anonymous river artist. Possible title “I heart the Willamette Warriors”.

Anonymous river artist. Possible title “I heart the Willamette Warriors.”


The Take-out & Take-home Message

Cascadia knows how to get down and get dirty for a good cause. They are a group that works behind-the-scenes, but should be front and center when it comes to the positive difference a few people can make in our community. Once a month, this small, but devoted crew takes a snapshot in time of the River’s use. What is collected on these trips could say some things about our “throw away” culture, but the effort and pride that goes into the clean-ups say a whole lot more. We’re all in it together, and partnering really can make a powerful difference. And like most things in life, it takes a conscious choice. A business can have a conscience if it is made of passionate people with an environmental ethic they not only teach and share with others, but also embody and live themselves. Although Cascadia guides practice leave-no-trace principles, their presence is felt and seen on the River when you can float along and not see trash. And at the end of the day (and the trip), we all benefit.

The August clean-up crew. We’re all smiles even at the end of a long day!

The August clean-up crew. We’re all smiles even at the end of a long day!


Blog post and photos; Guest writer for Cascadia Expeditions’s Blog– Rebecca McKay Steinberg, Greenbelt Land Trust’s Membership & Outreach Coordinator, river clean-up volunteer, and Willamette Warrior wanna-be

1Garrett Hardin, The Tragedy of the Commons (Science, 1968). Visit The Garrett Hardin Society: www.garretthardinsociety.org.