Sunday, October 05, 2014

Swan Island Lagoon

Here are a few photos from the Swan Island Boat Ramp, at one corner of the Swan Island lagoon, in the midst of a shipping and industrial zone. I haven't actually taken up boating; it just seemed like an interesting spot to go and take some photos. Looking around, you'll see some more or less natural areas, as well as a bunch of ships and barges docked at the ship repair facility downriver. There's even one end of a Freightliner wind tunnel protruding out over the lagoon, which is not something you'll see every day. Unless you work there, obviously.

The land around the boat ramp is not quite a city park; for some reason it's owned by the city's Bureau of Environmental Services, the local stormwater and sewer agency. I'm not sure what their interest in the place might be, since it looks like it predates their Big Pipe project on the other side of Swan Island.

This area was actually once part of the Willamette River, back when Swan Island was still an island, before the channel was filled in during the early 20th Century. Swan Island then became home to Portland's municipal airport until the current one opened in 1940, and it quickly became a shipbuilding center during World War II, churning out the war's ubiquitous T2 tankers. After shipbuilding wound down, it eventually evolved into today's general industrial zone. It seems like an unlikely place to put a public boat ramp. There are very few river launch points along the lower Willamette, so I suppose the city saw a chance to add another and grabbed it, even though boaters may have to dodge tankers and grain ships and Coast Guard dredges in order to use it.

As with much of the lower Willamette, the river here is full of all sorts of icky stuff, and there are big signs here warning people to never, ever, ever eat any fish caught here. Fishing in the Willamette has become a popular activity among some local immigrant communities, so the signs are translated into several languages to make sure people get the memo.

In some of the photos you'll see a rather photogenic abandoned and half-sunken boat not far from the boat ramp. This has been there for several years, and it's part of a larger abandoned boat problem the state continues to wring its hands about. Apparently nobody has the legal authority or the funding to do anything about it, so abandoned boats in state rivers just continue to sit abandoned indefinitely while nature slowly takes its course.

A Vintage Portland photo from 1935 shows this area in its short-lived airport days. A comment on the article mentions that the Swan Island lagoon was a popular waterskiing spot in the 1950s and 1960s, back before the word "Superfund" was invented. Eew.

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