The Human Access Project wants to change the way Portland thinks about the Willamette.

Ah, the mighty Willamette. It’s a beautiful river that serves as a landmark, an industrial thoroughfare and an integral part of Portland life. And, if you’re like most people who’ve spent some time in the Portland area, you’re as likely to dip a toe in the river as you are to head down to the sewage treatment plant for a lap swim. We all know that you just don’t swim in the river.

But what would you say if I told you the Willamette River, in Portland, is approved for summer swimming? Officially. I mean, approved by reputable sources like the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services and the City of Portland’s Office of Healthy Working Rivers. With the 20-year-long Big Pipe project completed in 2011 (the largest public works project in Portland’s history), the frequency of what is politely called Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) is expected to drop to almost zero. When CSO is not in action, the river’s approved for swimming and other recreational opportunities. That’s fine and great, but what about public perception? We all know the river is filthy. Ask anyone.

It’s an upstream PR battle, but the Human Access Project is doing what they can to change public opinion and they’re doing it Portland-style. Yes, they’re throwing a party. The Big Float takes place on Sunday, July 28th, and it’s dedicated to floating down the Willamette en masse, to end up at a beach (yes, Portland has a beach now) where bands, food and drink, massage chairs, and possibly a bounce castle will be waiting to entertain the masses and remind them that touching the Willamette, with both feet, isn’t so bad.

See you there?