Paddling in Partnership

by Alex Rhodes, Environmental Educator

Big Canoe

On a bright and sunny weekend, the first in what seemed like forever, the Blueprint Foundation and the Estuary Partnership circled up on the grass near the busy Cathedral Park boat ramp to build relationships and learn together.


a young man in a mask looks into the camera while he paddles a big canoe with others.
Blueprint mentee Jaden paddles in April.

The Blueprint Foundation is a family—some related by blood but most tied together by the close-knit Black community of North, Northeast, and East Portland. They share a commitment to learning about science and the trades. Almost every Saturday they meet to do projects around these topics, providing each youth involved opportunity and a stabilizing impact.

For many of the youth it was their first time on the water, but more experienced older peers and mentors helped to calm down their nervous excitement.


young man searches a plot in the sand for microdebris while an instructor looks on
Surveying the beach for plastics and
other micro-debris.

Today, the cause was the health of our local river system and studying the impact that marine debris has on its ecosystem. Along the paddle,  participants gathered information and learned the history of the highly impacted stretch of the Willamette River after years of industrial use. They charted their way through the waves from larger vessels to a stretch of beach adjacent to Portland’s largest transfer station, Metro Central. There was plenty of debris for them to survey.

Even with the magnitude of the issue, the youth found a way to have fun and use their imaginations while they analyzed the materials collected in micro-debris samples and used citizen science to track larger debris using the NOAA Marine Debris Tracker App. Finally, after resting in the shade to enjoy lunch near the beach, each boat paddled back full strength and as a team. They were one step closer to understanding our local debris issue and with a new appreciation for our local rivers.

Big thanks to City of Portland Community Watershed Stewardship Program for funding this and two other paddles in this series between the Estuary Partnership and Blueprint Foundation.