July 28th, 2010 | Published in Outdoors
|A Next Adventure kayaking tour winds gently around Ross Island amid a great blue heron and a bald eagle nest.|
Duckweed is a lot more interesting when one skims swiftly through it in the calm of Portland’s aquatic lifeline.
A few weeks back, I went on one of Next Adventure’s introductory kayak tours on the Willamette. Well into September, folks of all athletic backgrounds can sign up with Next Adventure to ply the waters around Ross Island. A site that many associate with the dust and noise of the Ross Island Sand and Gravel Company cement plant, Ross Island is a riparian zone teeming with bird life – a stone’s throw from Southeast Portland.
Before testing my sea legs, I met other tour members at Sellwood Riverfront Park, where one of our two guides instructed the group in basic paddling techniques and tips on how to enter and exit a kayak. After hauling the sleek vessels down to the nearby dock and plopping them into the water, we each took turns entering the water like so many goslings urged on by mother geese – geese with roughly 30 years of kayaking experience put together. Once assembled, our flotilla of 15 boats set sights downstream toward downtown Portland.
Ten minutes in, a speedboat zoomed by and unleashed its wake. After I adjusted for the small waves, I heard screaming in the distance. I looked to my right and saw a group of giddy kids on a roller coaster in Oaks Park amusement park – screaming their lungs out in terrified joy.
From then on, the signs of Portland’s East Side were shrouded by the thick tree cover of Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and the Springwater Corridor. After we stopped briefly near a ’50s faux-futuristic, all-metal exterior houseboat in the 110-year-old Oregon Yacht Club to get our bearings, one of the leaders pointed toward the Holgate Slough, a strip of water that leads to Ross Island’s lagoon.
Deceptively named, Ross Island is in fact two islands that were fused together by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1926. It is home to some of Ross Island Sand and Gravel Company’s cement-making facilities as well as to an active bald eagle nest – our ultimate goal for the excursion.
The increasingly choppy waters calmed as we turned into the lagoon. After passing the hypnotic workings of Ross Island Sand and Gravel’s machinery, we gathered to look at the massive seasonal bald eagle nest tucked into the west end of the lagoon. According to Jeremy Buck of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, some bald eagle nests are strong enough to support the weight of humans.
I mused on the sight of the colossal labor of love as we languidly paddled back to the dock. En route, we spied a great blue heron perched on a fallen tree, unmoved by the kayaker who passed mere feet from its regal presence. Haughty yes, but understandably so.
For more information, contact Next Adventure paddle sports center, (503) 445-9435.