The Holman Dock, also known as simply the Dock, is the coolest, most convenient place to swim for most Portlanders.
In the summer months, the Dock south of the Hawthorne Bridge sags under the weight of hip kids lying around all day. But there are questions everyone ignores: Can you drink on the dock? Is it safe to swim? How cold is the water? Is a boat going to hit me? Can I smoke pot on the dock? Isn't the Willamette polluted?
Even if you know the answers to all these questions, you may not know the city has created a plan to make the area around the Dock—and perhaps even the Dock itself—an even better place to chill. Here are the answers to everything you might be curious about, and something you may not know—the Dock will be closed for a portion of the summer.
Where is the Dock?
Just south of the Hawthorne Bridge, on the east side of the Willamette River. The Dock is accessible by bike, car or bus or on foot from the Eastbank Esplanade.
How does parking work?
Park on the street. There's a two-hour visitor limit from 7 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday. Yes, you can park for free on weekends.
Is use of the Dock free?
What should you bring to the Dock?
Sunscreen, because there is usually no shade. Snacks. Rainier.
Are you allowed to drink or smoke on the dock?
Does everybody drink or smoke on the dock?
Are you allowed to swim from the Dock?
Yes. Know your rights! In 2014, the Portland Boathouse, a private organization representing the interests of boaters, hired private security to tell swimmers they weren't allowed to swim from the Dock. When WW asked this security guard if it was against the law, he replied: "I'm not sure, but it's a rule." We asked the Portland Police Bureau, which said it was legal to swim from the Dock, and police would not hassle anyone doing so. So you are allowed to swim from the Dock. Anyone who tells you you cannot swim from the Dock is wrong.
Are there any plans to make the Dock more accessible?
Yes! The city of Portland is currently working on implementation of an Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan. The plan includes mitigating conflicts between boaters and swimmers, as well as habitat restoration to make the area more hospitable to migrating fish in colder months. The plan also calls for a 25-foot expansion of the river setback, which, combined with a change in zoning, could even include some retail space. We could also see a new Dock, swimming platforms and increased beach access.
The Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan came out of the greater planning effort for the Central City 2035 Plan. "There was a lot of public interest in activating and restoring the Willamette riverfront area," says senior city planner Debbie Bischoff. "Folks want to see improvements to habitat, to endangered fish and other wildlife."
Much of the increased interest in the riverfront stems from the fact the water is much less polluted now.
"Part of it does have to do with that the river is cleaner now," says Eden Dabbs, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. "All the work we did in the initial phases of the plan, we heard loud and clear that the city wanted to create natural beach sites on the river, which would give people an opportunity to engage with the river close to home rather than going out to somewhere like Oxbow Park."
Is there any danger of the Dock going away?
No, but the boaters might. The Portland Boathouse's lease expires in 2019, and according to the Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan, it "will likely need to relocate." As for the Dock, the lease with Prosper Portland, formerly the Portland Development Commission, expires in 2019, "but it is anticipated to be extended into the future." "There's a big demand for boating, and docks are precious resources," says Bischoff, "so I think it will continue." But, it will be temporarily removed from late July to early September for environmental cleanup. Bummer.
What is the water temperature?
The current temperature of the Willamette River in Portland is around 62 degrees. It's usually not warm enough to swim in until it reaches at least 70 degrees. The Willamette reached 70 in June last year, but it wasn't until July that it warmed to a comfortable 76 degrees.
Isn't the water polluted?
No. The city of Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services tests the water weekly from May to October. The last time it tested the Willamette near the Dock, the E. coli count was 7 organisms per 100 ml. You only have to worry when it rises above 406. The soil on the bed of the Willamette still suffers from the ravages of the Industrial Age, so don't dig out any dirt and eat it.