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Before Paddle Oregon participants hit the Willamette River on Wednesday, many took part in a yoga session in Corvallis’ Crystal Lake Park.

Yoga in a riverside park on a sunny summer morning is just one of the amenities the event offers this year. The five-day trip from Junction City to Salem by canoe and kayak also features catered meals, local wines and beers, massages, a service for transporting gear from campsite to campsite, and even a shower trailer for campgrounds.

First-timer Natalie Allen-Wriggle said that while she is a kayaker, this is her first multiday trip, and all the amenities made it a “pampered paddling experience.”

The roughly 150 participants, 30 guides and seven ground crew members camped at Crystal Lake Tuesday night and paddled to Albany Wednesday to camp in Bryant Park.

Allen-Wriggle, of Portland, said she has learned a lot about Oregon rivers on the trip. “It has broadened my interest (in waterways),” she said.

Travis Williams, executive director of the event's organizer, Willamette Riverkeeper, said the environmental nonprofit puts on the event to introduce people to recreation on the Willamette River — and to remind them about how much is needed to conserve it. If people recreate on the river, he said, they’re more likely to care about protecting and restoring water health.

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“The whole point is to make that connection,” he said.

Organizers also bring in experts for educational presentations on topics like freshwater mussels and the birds of prey that fish the rivers. He said some participants got to see an eagle catch a fish Tuesday — and these firsthand experiences help make the lessons stick.

Williams added that the Willamette River is uniquely well-suited for Paddle Oregon: it’s got enough miles for a long trip and it’s calm enough to be safe for a large group that includes some inexperienced paddlers.

Williams said this is the event's 19th year, but he’s not yet sure if Willamette Riverkeeper will do anything special to mark the anniversary next year.

“We’re just trying to get through this one and then we’ll start planning,” he said.

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Anthony Rimel covers weekend events, education, courts and crime and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-812-6091, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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